The coronavirus is mutating—but what determines how quickly?
Though not technically alive, viruses mutate and evolve similar to living cells, producing new variants all the time.
Without genetic mutations, there would be no humans. There wouldn’t be any living beings at all—no mammals, insects, or plants, not even bacteria.
These tiny errors, which can happen at random each time a cell or virus copies itself, provide the raw materials for evolution to take place. Mutations create variation in a population, which allows natural selection to amplify the traits that help creatures thrive—stretching a giraffe’s long neck to reach high leaves, or camouflaging caterpillars like poop to evade birds’ notice.
Amid a pandemic, however, the word “mutation” strikes a more ominous note. Viruses, though not technically alive, also mutate and evolve as they infect a hosts’ cells and replicate. The resulting tweaks to the virus’s