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

When SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19, appeared in China and quickly brought the entire world to a standstill, then-President Donald Trump liked to refer to it as “the Chinese virus.”

Fast-forward two and a half years, and US scientists are warning that a recently discovered virus harbored 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 a sarbecovirus, the same subcategory of coronavirus as SARS-CoV-2, and shows “troubling features,” according to a new study published in the PLoS Pathogens magazine.

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

“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″, 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 SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as Omicron, but protect against all sarbecoviruses.

‘Strange Russian viruses’

Among the hundreds of sarbecoviruses discovered in recent years, most have been 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 initially appeared to pose no threat to humans, according to the study authors.

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

“But when we looked at them more, 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.”

‘worrisome traits’

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

…there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties that we really don’t want them to have, set up this scenario where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to form a potentially more risky 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), found on all human cells.

Next, the scientists wanted to find out if the virus could evade 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 were infected with the Omicron variant, but again, the antibodies were ineffective.

Fortunately, the authors write that the new virus lacks some of the genetic features thought 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 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 up in the one where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to create a potentially more risky virus,” Letko said.

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