Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Searching for smart, safe news you can TRUST?

Support safe, smart, REAL journalism. Sign up for our Axios AM & PM newsletters and get smarter, faster.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Minneapolis-St. Paul

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa-St. Petersburg news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa-St. Petersburg

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Viruses change as they spread — the novel coronavirus included.

Why it matters: A key question for the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and treatments is how much a virus mutates — and how efforts to fight it may have to adjust to keep up.

How it works: Viruses mutate as they replicate in host cells, producing thousands of mutations that evolution then acts upon as the virus spreads through a population.

  • RNA viruses — HIV, influenza and coronaviruses, for example — tend to mutate faster than DNA ones.
  • But unlike other RNA viruses, coronaviruses have proof-reading capabilities that allow them to catch errors that arise as the virus copies itself.

Where it stands: There are no direct measurements of the raw mutation rate of SARS-CoV-2, but it is likely less than influenza and HIV viruses, says Rafael Sanjuán, who studies virus evolution at the University of Valencia in Spain.

  • As the novel coronavirus spreads around the world, researchers are tracking the changes that are occurring — a reflection of the virus' spontaneous mutations that are shaped by natural selection and other forces.
  • One example: A mutation appears to be recurring at different times and in clusters of people, suggesting it isn't random and increases the fitness of the virus, according to unpublished data that is itself evolving.
  • Yes, but: "Fitness doesn't necessarily mean a virus is more lethal," says Phoebe Lostroh, a molecular biologist at Colorado College and program director at the National Science Foundation.

The big picture: There are tradeoffs between how fast a virus replicates, how efficiently it is transmitted and how lethal it is.

  • The original SARS virus behind the outbreak in 2003 replicated low in the respiratory system whereas SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the upper tract — meaning it can be transmitted more easily through coughing and the symptoms are less severe, letting the virus sneak under the radar in many cases.
  • The Ebola virus had a less than 50% fatality rate in the 2014 epidemic compared to 90% for all previous (and smaller) outbreaks, perhaps because mutations in the virus allowed it to be transmitted more efficiently but also made it less lethal, Sanjuán says.

Keep in mind: Technology has kept up with changes in influenza and other viruses by monitoring mutations, and there are strategies to target multiple regions of a virus with drugs and vaccines.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: The good and bad news about antibody therapies — Fauci: Hotspots have materialized across "the entire country."
  2. World: Belgium imposes lockdown, citing "health emergency" due to influx of cases.
  3. Economy: Conference Board predicts economy won’t fully recover until late 2021.
  4. Education: Surge threatens to shut classrooms down again.
  5. Technology: The pandemic isn't slowing tech.
  6. Travel: CDC replaces COVID-19 cruise ban with less restrictive "conditional sailing order."
  7. Sports: High school football's pandemic struggles.
  8. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.
Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
Updated 3 hours ago - Economy & Business

Dunkin' Brands agrees to $11B Inspire Brands sale

Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Dunkin' Brands, operator of both Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, agreed on Friday to be taken private for nearly $11.3 billion, including debt, by Inspire Brands, a restaurant platform sponsored by private equity firm Roark Capital.

Why it matters: Buying Dunkin’ will more than double Inspire’s footprint, making it one of the biggest restaurant deals in the past 10 years. This could ultimately set up an IPO for Inspire, which already owns Arby's, Jimmy John's and Buffalo Wild Wings.

Ina Fried, author of Login
5 hours ago - Technology

Federal judge halts Trump administration limit on TikTok

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A federal judge on Friday issued an injunction preventing the Trump administration from imposing limits on the distribution of TikTok, Bloomberg reports. The injunction request came as part of a suit brought by creators who make a living on the video service.

Why it matters: The administration has been seeking to force a sale of, or block, the Chinese-owned service. It also moved to ban the service from operating in the U.S. as of Nov. 12, a move which was put on hold by Friday's injunction.