The Indian Council of Medical Research on Saturday said that it has successfully isolated and cultured the new variant of the coronavirus identified in the United Kingdom. The top medical body claimed that no other country has so far reported success in this area.

Culture is the process by which cells are grown under controlled conditions, generally outside their natural environment.

“Vero cell lines were used by the scientists of ICMR and the National Institute of Virology to culture the UK-variant of the virus,” it said in a tweet. “UK variant of the virus, with all signature changes, is now successfully isolated and cultured from the clinical specimens collected from UK-returnees.”

So far, India has reported 29 cases of the new coronavirus variant, according to the data shared by the health ministry.

The new virus strain

The new UK virus variant, which scientists have named “VUI – 202012/01”, includes a genetic mutation in the “spike protein”, which could result in coronavirus spreading more easily between people. It was first announced by Matt Hancock, the UK health secretary, on December 14, and was subsequently confirmed by Public Health England and the UK’s Covid-19 sequencing consortium. Screening back through databases of SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, the first sample was taken in the county of Kent on September 20.

The variant carries 23 mutations in its genetic code a relatively high number of changes compared with the version that originated in Wuhan, China, a year ago and some of these are affecting its ability to spread. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed that this was as much as 70% more transmissible than previous versions.

Most scientists have said that the new variant has rapidly become the dominant strain in coronavirus cases in parts of southern England, and have linked it to an increase in hospitalisation rates. However, it is difficult to say exactly how much more transmissible the new variant may be as scientists have not yet done the kind of lab experiments that are required to assess it.

The new strain has also been reported in the United States, Denmark, Netherlands, Australia, Italy, Sweden, France, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, Lebanon and Singapore.