When the Delta variant became the most dominant strain of the novel coronavirus in the United States in July, experts were alarmed by its ability to be transmitted quickly compared to other strains. At its peak, the delta-driven wave recorded over 127,000 cases in mid-September. Cases have steadily declined since then, but still not enough for the country to lower its vigilance in the face of COVID-19.

While the US is still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, Japan has surprisingly seen a sharp drop in daily cases, leading experts to believe that the Delta tribe is on the verge of extinction in the Asian country. And based on what they’ve been through so far, the cause of the sudden nosedive in some cases could be due to one of the virus’ innate abilities – mutation.

Japan’s current COVID-19 situation

In August, Japan recorded around 23,000 cases a day amid the country’s Delta Wave. Three months later, Japan has an insignificant number of cases per day. The average daily cases last reported in the country is 140. In Tokyo, which was the epicenter of the outbreak during the first wave of the pandemic, only 16 new cases were reported on Friday, according to the New York Post.

When the delta wave abruptly stalled, local experts weighed what could have caused the sudden drop in transmissions. Among the theories around is the idea that the Delta Tribe has already depleted its mutations and has now reached a point where it is already self-destructing.

One of the common characteristics of viruses is their ability to mutate or develop. Whenever a virus is replicated, its genes also go through processes that involve “copying errors”. Over time, the random processes build up and lead to changes in the overall composition of the virus. These mutations vary widely, making some strains more transmissible and virulent. But there are also cases in which the mutations become “evolutionary dead ends”, as experts call them.

A promising discovery about the Delta variety

A group of researchers, led by the National Institute of Genetics, Mishima, Japan, conducted a study on the Delta virus. While focusing on the strain’s error-correcting enzyme nsp14, they found that certain genetic changes in the virus led to an abrupt halt in its evolutionary process.

According to the researchers, they found that at one point the delta variant struggled to fix the bugs but continued to replicate itself. This ultimately resulted in the virus taking care of its demise on its own. Ituro Inoue, a genetics professor at the institute, described the process as “self-destruction” and said they were all shocked by the discovery.

Regarding what is happening in the country right now, Inoue told the Japan Times that her discovery might help explain why the number of cases in Japan has suddenly declined in recent weeks.

“When you consider that cases have not increased, we think that at some point during such mutations they headed straight for natural extinction,” the outlet quoted as saying.

Could Mutation Be The Answer To The Delta Problem?

The head of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Reading, Dr. Simon Clarke made a similar statement when asked how the Delta strain of the virus might become extinct. In a dialogue with the British newspaper The Sun, he stated that the virus could move towards self-extinction on its own after world domination.

“The virus accumulates too many mutations and can therefore no longer replicate. If you get a virus like this, it just dies out. It’s like a person who never has children, their genetic material stops, the end of the road, ”explained Dr. Clarke.

Even if the results of the Japanese scientists seem promising, Dr. Clarke advised that the so-called “evolutionary dead ends” only occur in a “very small subset of cases”. It is also important to note that, similar to humans, not everyone stops producing children.

“There will still be a lot of coronavirus that can infect people and will do just that until we have adequate immunity or can break the chains of transmission,” said Dr. Clarke.

In the case of Japan, other experts believed that in addition to the theorized self-destructive mutations, a major reason for the decline in cases there could be the country’s high vaccination rate. Recently, 75% of Japanese people have been double vaccinated against COVID-19.

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