Irene Fernández

The origin of the name kraken for the XBB.1.5 variant and why it is so controversial


  • Discussion about giving unofficial names to some omicron sub-variants: the last one is “Kraken” for XBB.1.5.


  • Immunologist Rafa Toledo: “Alarms are generated if necessary, but not by scientific data and by crude subliminal messages that endow the virus with paranormal powers”


  • Topol asks WHO to name them to avoid confusion: “They can be given new names made up of Greek letters instead of what some people have invented”

Kraken: “A Huge, gigantic sea creature from Norse mythology, often described as a type of octopus, giant squid, or jellyfish emerging from the depths, attacking ships and devouring sailors”. If you read this, you’re probably thinking of a scary sea monster, not a virus. Maybe it was his idea (maybe not) that decided to name the XBB.1.5 variant of the coronavirus as such, Omicron’s daughter, granddaughter, or great-grandchild whose pedigree is already difficult to trace.

Because yes, everything is still omicron, but not all of its descendants are the same. This idea T.Ryan Gregory is a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of Guelph, Canada. We met him a few months ago.Why His is also the term “various soup”.as a reference numerous recently emerged omicron lineages and subcladestheir names became increasingly long and complex.

naming them, follows pango methodhe is alternate letters and numbers when adding steps in the evolution of the virusand as it multiplies faster and faster, combinations become long and complicated to memorize. The Canadian scientist must have thought “too much”. It is not enough to continue to bring them all under the umbrella of “micron”.

Distinguish variants and learn Greek mythology

In August, Gregory presented the idea to several colleagues and the general Twitter public. What if we started naming the most important new omicron variants with nicknames taken from mythological beings? “Everything worth seeing (eg. potentially have relevant mutations and/or appear to have a growth advantage) gets the next nickname on the list,” he suggested to colleagues like Swiss virus sequencing scientist Cornelius Roemer. No sooner said than done.

Not without a certain mockery, Gregory was explaining why it would be appropriate to return to Greek mythology. “I think of Greek mythological creatures because there are so many of them, they fit the names of the Greek letters, and they are catchy (plus, people can learn a little bit of Greek mythology as an added bonus!)”. In this case, when it comes to the Kraken, the argument would be to learn more about Norse mythology. Classical Greeks were more like monsters like Scylla and Charybdis. Putting Kraken in the stories of the ancient Greeks is a feature of movies. Wrath of the Titans.

Gregory refers to the Greek letters while referring to those officially used by WHO to refer only to those considered risk variants. As of today, XBB.1.5 for WHO (the only one who can officially ‘name’ risk variables) is simply omicron.

Neither “fear bear” nor “giant squid”

this thread Rafa Toledo, Professor of Immunology at the University of Valencia It is also memorable. The immunologist is critical of Kraken’s name and the idea of ​​naming it in general. pseudonyms “biased” and “an important marketing component” to virus variants. And with the same sarcasm as the Canadian scientist, he explains his view on the matter on Twitter. “Obviously a sub-variant called Cute Bear doesn’t create the same panic as any of the above. A virus is not a loving bear, but I am clear that it is neither a police-headed dog nor a giant squid coming from a cliff.”

Toledo criticizes this “When a variable has to be named, the trend is always towards violent and/or mysterious mythological beings”, names “systematically leads to fear and alarm.

Not to alarm, but to better communicate what’s going on.

Gregory said that it was not his intention at any time to frighten, but rather better communicate what’s going on, make the evolution of the virus more understandable for the general public.

Of the informal names used so far for the omicron variants, BA.2.75, nicknamed “Centaurus”, also had a moment of glory, but this is not from Gregorybut from a Twitter user who experienced the event. name stuck Y various meanings we gave it wings for a while. has even come up Nature magazine. The Canadian says it gave him the idea to continue down that path.

Gregory started using Kraken shortly before Christmas, and the name is quickly gaining attention. in social networks. Also in some media. When we look at the searches made on Google, we see that it has achieved its purpose: to arouse public interest. For example, compare Kraken and XBB.1.5 calls were made from Spain last week.

Google searches

Google searches for “Kraken” and “Xbb.1.5”. last weekGoogle Trends

WHO out of discussion: Topol asks them to intervene

This WHO didn’t even mention Kraken’s name, nor any of the informal names given to other variants. To them They just give a name to the so-called “risk variants” (VOC, for the English abbreviation) when they are prevails in many countries. So, they have to win hard. that’s when they name them with any of the Greek letters and they do it in alphabetical order.

That’s all that’s happened so far alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omicron. But since the latter, it no longer happened. WHO argues that the emerging omicron subvariables are not sufficiently diverse. enough to deserve a name. Although they concede that Kraken is “the most infectious omicron variant to date”, It doesn’t make scientific sense. give it a name. Neither this nor any other. Because they claim that everything is still ohmicron.

Eric Topol, one of the American scientists who was a touchstone during the pandemic, disagrees. With this. “Not naming them is not a good defense. I would beg them to do it. People can’t remember these numbers.” Explained in Fortune magazine the Founder of the Scripps Research Translation Institute.

topol says for example, would call BA.5, which until recently was the dominant variant worldwide, “Pi” or “Sigma” because it is so different of the original omicron (BA.1.) and BA.2. And he believes WHO should also name variants that currently dominate infections in countries like Spain: BQ.1. and BQ.1.1.

“New names can be given from Greek letters instead of names that some have made up”Topol is arguing. “If different people come up with names, it will end up as confusing as numbers or letters.”

From Greek mythology to constellations and galaxies…

Gregory defends his system above all for the latest subvariables that appear. “If we want to clarify Grown in the UK is not the same as grown in the USA, ‘alphabet soup’ will be very difficult for that.”It says on Fortune.

If the system is adopted, we would now have Basilisk and Cerberus in the UK, and Hydra and Aeterna in the US. And so, “You can immediately tell which names are the same and which are not,” he says.

And what if the omicron continues to accelerate its evolution and produce subvariables of interest? No problem. Gregory explains at Fortune that there are more possible names on the table. apply raises planets, stars, constellations, galaxies…

But there are many scientists who like it. Toledo, think this helps more to alarm than to understand. “Alarm is generated if necessary, but with scientific data and not raw subliminal messages that endow the virus with paranormal powers. It is not only unnecessary, but also inefficient. Necessary alarm arises, unnecessary bred”, concludes the immunologist.


#origin #kraken #XBB.1.5 #variant #controversial

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