When SARS-CoV-2 – the virus behind COVID-19 – emerged in China and quickly stopped the whole world, then-President Donald Trump liked to call it the “Chinese virus”.
Fast-forward two and a half years, and American scientists are warning that a newly discovered virus in Russian horseshoe bats could also infect humans and evade COVID-19 antibodies and vaccines.
A bat virus called Khosta-2 is known as a sarbecovirus – the same subcategory of coronaviruses as SARS-CoV-2 – and exhibits “disturbing properties”, according to a new study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.
A team led by researchers at Washington State University’s Paul G. Allen School of Global Health found that Khosta-2, like SARS-CoV-2, can use spike proteins to infect human cells.
“Our study further demonstrates that SARS-CoV-2 circulating in wildlife outside of Asia – even in places where the Khost-2 virus has been found in western Russia – poses a global health threat and ongoing vaccination campaigns,” said Michael Leko, a virologist at WSU and co-author of the study. The corresponding author said in the statement.
This discovery highlights the need to develop new vaccines, such as Omicron, that do not only target the known SARS-CoV-2 strains, but protect against all SARS-CoV-2 viruses, he said.
“Unusual Russian viruses”.
Of the hundreds of Sarbecoviruses discovered in recent years, most are found in Asian bats and are not capable of infecting human cells.
The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in bats near Russia’s Sochi National Park in 2020 and were initially not considered a threat to humans, according to the study’s authors.
“Genetically, these rare Russian viruses resembled some of those found elsewhere around the world, but because they didn’t resemble SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really that exciting,” Letko said. he said.
“But when we looked at them further, we were surprised to find that they can infect human cells. That changes a little bit our understanding of these viruses, where they come from and what regions they target.”
Letko and his colleagues determined that Khosta-1 posed a low risk to humans, but Khosta-2 was of greater concern.
Specifically, like SARS-CoV-2, Khosta-2 uses 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 see if the virus could rescue the immunity provided by previous coronavirus infections or the Covid-19 vaccine.
Using serum from people vaccinated against Covid-19, the team confirmed that Khosta-2 is not isolated by current vaccines.
They also tested the serum from people infected with the micron variant, but again the antibodies were ineffective.
Fortunately, the authors write, the new virus lacks some of the genetic features that can “defy” the immune system and contribute to disease in humans — but there is concern that Khosta-2 could recombine with the second virus and cause serious damage. SARS-CoV-2.
“When you see that SARS-2 has the ability to spread from humans and into wildlife, and other viruses like Khosta-2 are waiting in animals that have these properties that we don’t want them to have, it sets this up.” “The dice keep flipping until they merge and create a dangerous virus,” Letko said.