Scientists warn that the Russian bat virus could infect humans and resist COVID vaccines

Scientists warn that the Russian bat virus could infect humans and resist COVID vaccines

When SARS-CoV-2 – the virus behind COVID-19 – emerged in China and quickly shut down the entire world, then President Donald Trump liked to call it “the Chinese virus.”

Fast forward two and a half years and US scientists warn that a recently discovered virus hosted by Russian horseshoe bats is also capable of infecting humans and evading COVID-19 antibodies and vaccines.

The bat virus, called Khosta-2, is known as sarbecovirus – the same coronavirus subcategory as SARS-CoV-2 – and shows “troubling traits,” according to a new study published in the PLoS magazine pathogens.

A team led by researchers from the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health at Washington State University (WSU) found that Khosta-2 can use its spike proteins to infect human cells just like SARS-CoV-2 does.

“Our research further demonstrates that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside Asia – even in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was found – also pose a threat to global health and vaccination campaigns. ongoing against SARS-CoV-2, “Michael Letko, a WSU virologist and corresponding author of the study, said in a statement.

He said this discovery highlights the need to develop new vaccines that not only target known variants of SARS-CoV-2, such as Omicron, but protect against all sarbecoviruses.

‘Strange Russian viruses’

Of the hundreds of sarbecoviruses discovered in recent years, most have been found in Asian bats and are unable to infect human cells.

The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in bats near Russia’s Sochi National Park in 2020 and initially appeared not to be a threat to humans, according to the study’s authors.

“Genetically, these strange Russian viruses looked like some of the others that had been discovered in other parts of the world, but because they didn’t look like SARS-CoV-2, no one really thought they were really something to get too excited about,” Letko said.

“But when we looked at them more, we were really surprised to find that they could infect human cells. This changes our understanding of these viruses a bit, where they come from and what regions they affect.”

‘Troubling traits’

Letko and his colleagues determined that Khosta-1 posed a low risk to humans, but Khosta-2 was more concerning.

… there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties that we really don’t want them to have, set this scenario where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to create a potentially riskier virus.

Notably, like SARS-CoV-2, Khosta-2 can use its spike protein to infect cells by binding to a receptor protein, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is found in all human cells.

The scientists then wanted to find out if the virus could evade the immunity offered by previous coronavirus infections or COVID-19 vaccines.

Using serum derived from people vaccinated against COVID-19, the team found that Khosta-2 was not neutralized by current vaccines.

They also tested serum from people who had been infected with the Omicron variant, but even then the antibodies were ineffective.

Fortunately, the authors write that the new virus lacks some of the genetic characteristics believed to “antagonize” the immune system and contribute to disease in humans, but there is a risk that Khosta-2 could wreak havoc by recombining with a second virus such as SARS-CoV-2.

“When you see that SARS-2 has this ability to spill over to humans and wildlife, and then there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties that we don’t really want them to have, set this scenario in. you keep rolling the dice until they combine to create a potentially riskier virus, “Letko said.

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