At 2:30 in the morning last December, researchers at a Scripps Research lab in La Jolla were fairly certain they had identified the first B.1.1.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in California. They had received a sample a few hours before that their collaborating institution, the University of California, San Diego (USCD), suspected could be it. After hours of sequencing, there were only a few more gaps in the genome to fill in.
Finally, at around 8 a.m. the next morning, researchers Dr. Mark Zeller and Karthik Gangavarapu from the Andersen Lab confirmed that it was, in fact, the variant. They immediately notified the lab’s principal investigator, Dr. Kristian Andersen, UCSD and the county.
“I think we expected to find the variant at some point, we just didn't think it would be that early,” Gangavarapu said. “This was December 30.”
The B.1.1.7 variant, sometimes called the UK variant, was first detected in the U.S. just one day before, on December 29, in Colorado. It is considered a “Variant of Concern” by the CDC, and it has a higher rate of transmission than the wild SARS-CoV-2 strain. Its presence in the United States, is “concerning,” Gangavarapu said. “If not controlled properly, you would expect a surge in cases.”
The Andersen Lab’s discovery of the B.1.1.7 variant was made possible because of groundwork laid using funding from the Clinical & Translational Science Award (CTSA) Program from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.