JN.1 represents 'very serious evolution' of Covid virus, say global experts

JN.1, classified as a variant of interest by WHO owing to its rapid spread, is currently present in about 41 countries

Representative image
Representative image


JN.1, the latest Covid-19 variant from the lineage of Omicron making a fresh surge around the globe, represents a 'very serious evolution' of Covid virus, according to global experts.

JN.1, classified as a variant of interest (VOI) by the World Health Organization (WHO) owing to its rapid spread, is currently present in about 41 countries. It was first detected in Luxembourg in August. The WHO expects JN.1 to increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries.

The WHO has "called JN.1 a VOI (variant of interest), and that just doesn’t cut it, with the growth advantage this variant has demonstrated. It is just extraordinary", Dr Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, was quoted as saying to Fortune.

JN.1 is a descendent lineage of BA.2.86, with the earliest sample collected on 25 August 2023. In comparison with BA.2.86, JN.1 has the additional L455S mutation in the spike protein, making it more transmissible.

"JN.1 represents a very serious evolution of the virus. And it isn't over," Dr Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), was quoted as saying.

"JN.1 is an all new variant with numerous changes never seen in any commonly circulating lineage before. This is unlike other recent variants, which were merely a few mutations from their predecessor," Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, co-chairman of the National Indian Medical Association Covid Task Force, told IANS. "Therefore, the disease patterns from an immune evasiveness and spread capability of this variant needs careful attention."

He explained immune invasiveness of a variant as the ability of a virus to overcome the existing immune response within an individual.

After the major variants of Covid like Alpha, Delta and Omicron, JN.1 very likely represents a new chapter in pandemic evolution, claimed the experts. According to Ryan Gregory, a biology professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, JN.1 has ushered in "a new era".

The highly transmissible variant is "on track to become the lineage from which most variants are descended for the foreseeable future", Gregory was quoted as saying to Fortune.

Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's Covid-19 technical lead, said the next sub-lineages of the Covid virus can come from JN.1, "but we could also see something quite different. We could see something like an Omicron again".

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