SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — NewsChannel 9 was given rare access into the testing labs at Upstate Medical University where researchers are hunting for local detections of the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

This year alone, nearly two million people have gotten their coronavirus test results from the labs at Upstate. Positive cases aren’t just reported back to the patient, they go on to be studied for virus mutations.

Upstate is one of four labs in Upstate New York approved by the State Department of Health to look for virus variants, including Omicron. Upstate Medical University Professor Frank Middleton explains similar to how each human has unique DNA, so does the virus their body replicates.

In their research, they find differences between viruses, the genetic package of each sample is taken apart chemically.

Computers compare the results to less-evolved strains and visually highlight the mutant components. Over time, regular mutations become the next named variant. All tests through Upstate were still showing Delta as the only variant, but Omicron is expected in the lab any day.

Professor Middleton puts local results into an international database, where labs in other countries have already registered the genetic blueprint of Omicron.

Looking at the research, Middleton admits his concern that the “S Gene,” the spike protein of the virus, targeted by the vaccine’s antibodies, shows 30 more mutations. “An alarming difference,” says Middleton.

Professor Middleton and his team, in partnership with Quadrant Biosciences, developed a saliva-based test approved by the FDA last summer.