Scientists warn that Russian bat virus can infect humans and resist covid vaccines

Scientists warn that Russian bat virus can infect humans and resist covid vaccines

Scientists warn that Russian bat virus can infect humans and resist covid vaccines

When SARS-CoV-2 – the virus behind COVID-19 – emerged 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 newly discovered virus carried 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 it shows “disturbing properties”, according to a new study published in journal PLoS Pathogens.

A team led by researchers at 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 in the same way that SARS-CoV-2 does.

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

“Weird Russian Viruses”

Among 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 pose 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 elsewhere around the world, but because they didn’t look like SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were anything to go by too excited about,” Letko said.

“But when we looked at them more, we were really surprised to find that they could infect human cells. It kind of changes our understanding of these viruses, where they come from and what regions they’re in.”

‘Troubling 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 traits that we really don’t want them to have, it sets up this scenario where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to make a potentially riskier virus .

In particular, like SARS-CoV-2, Khosta-2 can use its spike protein to infect cells by attaching to a receptor protein, called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), found in human cells.

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

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

They also tested serum from people infected with the Omicron variant, but even there the antibodies were ineffective.

Fortunately, the authors write, 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 another virus such as e.g. SARS-CoV-2.

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

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