While scientists continue to determine how the mysterious Omicron variant emerged carrying such an unusual array of mutations that evolved right under virologists’ radar, several theories are evolving regarding its origin. While we await the final report from the Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) formed by WHO, three potential theories are up for discussion:
Despite sequencing millions of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, scientists might have simply missed a series of mutations that eventually led to Omicron,
The unique combination of mutations might have evolved inside one person as part of a long-term COVID infection,
It could have emerged unseen in other animal hosts, such as mice or rats, and then transmitted to humans.
Although these are very compelling theories, we may never know where Omicron originated because it lacks a transparent path to link it to its predecessors. Once we know under what conditions this highly transmissible variant arose, the scientific community will be able to understand the risk of new variants emerging and could guide us in minimizing those risks.