Does the omicron variant of COVID-19 share some of the common cold’s genetic code?

Friday, January 21, 2022
By Lisa Freedland

Researchers from the medical data analytics firm nference have discovered that COVID-19's omicron variant shares a "snippet of genetic material" with the virus that causes the common cold. This snippet has not been found in previous COVID-19 variants. Researchers speculate that omicron could have mutated from someone who was simultaneously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and HCoV-229E — the viruses that cause COVID-19 and the common cold, respectively. Frequently reported cold-like symptoms of omicron such as runny nose and sore throat lend support to the finding.

Venky Soundararajan, a co-author of the nference study, suggested that by incorporating genetic material from the cold virus, omicron may be making itself look "more human," helping it evade attack by the human immune system. This could explain its high degree of transmissibility.

Currently, omicron is responsible for 99.5% of the COVID-19 cases nationwide.

This fact brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.
Between 2020 and 2022, under close editorial supervision, Gigafact contracted a group of freelance writers and editors to test the concepts for fact briefs and provide inputs to our software development process. We call this effort Gigafact Foundry. Over the course of these two years, Gigafact Foundry writers published over 1500 fact briefs in response to claims they found online. Their important work forms the basis of Gigafact formats and editorial guidelines, and is available to the public on Gigafact.org. Readers should be aware that while there is still a lot of relevant information to be found, not all fact briefs produced by Gigafact Foundry reflect Gigafact's current methods and standards for fact briefs. If you come across any that you feel are out of date and need to be looked at with fresh eyes, don't hesitate to contact us at support@gigafact.org.