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With growing concerns about COVID-19 variants, a Rutgers University professor is heading up a research team that’s trying to better understand the RNA genome of the coronavirus in order to be able to better combat its mutations.

Thanks to a $188,253 grant from the National Science Foundation, Rutgers-Camden biology professor Andrey Grigoriev is using high-tech computers to study regions of the SARS-CoV-2 genome.

He said the vaccines developed by Pfizer and Moderna target spike proteins in the virus. But these proteins are very mutable, which means we can expect them to change and produce variants.

There is evidence to suggest the U.K. variant, first identified in Great Britain, can infect people more easily and it is beginning to spread rapidly in the United States. It could become the dominant form of COVID-19 within the next several weeks.

Another variant, first identified in South Africa, has also been confirmed in this country, and early studies suggest the current vaccines may not be as effective in treating this form.

Grigoriev explained viruses constantly mutate but there are regions within the coronavirus genome that are more stable than others.

“In addition to this (current) vaccination effort,” he said, “there could be other approaches, alternatives, to try and attack the virus elsewhere.”

He said this means “to attack it on multiple fronts, so that multiple mutations at the same time won’t be as frequent and will give us a better chance of attacking the virus.”

Grigoriev said that it's understood that older people and those with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to the virus but there may also be other genetic factors that make some younger people more likely to become seriously ill.

By studying the SARS-CoV 2 coronavirus genome, more effective vaccines and medications may ultimately be developed.

“What we are trying to do is to make some predictions about how some future mutations will go," he said.

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LOOK: Answers to 30 common COVID-19 vaccine questions

While much is still unknown about the coronavirus and the future, what is known is that the currently available vaccines have gone through all three trial phases and are safe and effective. It will be necessary for as many Americans as possible to be vaccinated in order to finally return to some level of pre-pandemic normalcy, and hopefully these 30 answers provided here will help readers get vaccinated as soon they are able.

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