The Lambda coronavirus variant has arrived in Australia. Here’s what we know so far

Key points:

  • The Lambda variant is one of 11 official SARS-CoV-2 variants recognised by the World Health Organization
  • It was first detected in Peru and has spread to 29 countries, including Australia
  • A new study that has yet to be peer-reviewed found signs that the variant could be more infectious and harder to tackle with vaccination, but it’s early days

Coronavirus variants

The World Health Organization has identified 11 coronavirus variants so far (there are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet).

There are four variants of concern:

  • Alpha
  • Beta
  • Gamma 
  • Delta

And seven variants of interest (most of which you’ve probably never heard of). They are:

  • Epsilon
  • Zeta
  • Eta
  • Theta
  • Iota
  • Kappa
  • Lambda

All SARS-CoV-2 variants are distinguished from one another by mutations in their spike proteins — the components of the virus that allow it to invade human cells.

For instance, the Delta variant first detected in India has two key spike protein mutations — E484Q and L452R  — that allow it to infect cells more easily and evade the body’s immune response. 

According to research published last week but yet to be peer reviewed,  Lambda has seven unique spike protein mutations.

A Chilean team of scientists analysed blood samples from health workers in Santiago who had received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech in China.

They found  the Lambda variant has a mutation called L452Q, which is similar to the L452R mutation seen in the Delta and Epsilon variants.

As the L452R mutation is thought to make Delta and Epsilon more infectious and resilient against vaccination, the team concluded that Lambda’s L452Q mutation might also help it spread far and wide. 

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