A new Covid-like virus discovered in a Russian bat can infect humans and evade vaccines, study says

A virus recently discovered in a Russian bat is similar to the one causing the Covid-19 pandemic and can also infect humans, according to a new study.

Researchers, including those at Washington State University in the US, have found that spike proteins from the bat virus, called Khosta-2, can infect human cells and that it is resistant to both antibodies and human serum. vaccinated against Sars-CoV. -two.

They say that both Khosta-2 and the Covid virus belong to the same subcategory of coronavirus known as sarbecovirus.

“Our research further demonstrates that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside of Asia, including in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was found, also pose a threat to global health and ongoing vaccination campaigns. against Sars-CoV-2”, the scientists wrote. in the study, published in the journal PLOS Pathogens on Thursday.

The researchers call for the development of universal vaccines to protect against sarbecoviruses in general, rather than just known variants of the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

“Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed for specific viruses that we know to infect human cells or those that seem to pose the greatest risk of infecting us. But that is a list that is constantly changing. We need to scale up the design of these vaccines to protect against all sarbecoviruses,” study co-author Michael Letko said in a statement.

Scientists initially discovered the Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses in Russian bats in late 2020, but thought they were not a threat to humans.

“But when we looked at them further, we were very surprised to find that they could infect human cells. That changes our understanding of these viruses a bit, where they come from and which regions are of concern,” said Dr. Letko.

While Khosta-1 posed a low risk to humans, the researchers say Khosta-2 showed some worrying traits.

They found that it can use its spike protein to infect cells by binding to a receptor protein, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), which is found on all human cells.

It is the same ACE2 protein that the Covid-19 virus uses as a gateway to enter and infect human cells.

When scientists tested whether current anti-Covid vaccines can protect against the new virus using serum derived from human populations vaccinated against Covid-19, they found that Khosta-2 was not neutralized.

The researchers also tested serum from people infected with the omicron variant against Khosta-2, but these antibodies were also ineffective.

While the new virus lacks some genes thought to be involved in pathogenesis in humans, they say there is a risk that Khosta-2 could recombine with a second virus like Sars-CoV-2.

“When you see that Sars-2 has this ability to spread from humans to wildlife, and then there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties that we really don’t want them to have, it sets this scenario in the right direction. that you keep rolling the dice until they combine to create a potentially more risky virus,” Dr. Letko said.

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