Scientists have developed a "hybrid virus", which has traits of novel coronavirus but it is far less contagious in comparison and lacks the ability to cause severe illness. Given the highly contagious nature of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID 19, it can only be studied under high-level biosafety conditions. This has sseverely impacted the efforts to find vaccines since many scientists don’t have access to the required facilities. To overcome this impediment, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine modified a mild virus by swapping one of its genes for one from SARS-CoV-2. This hybrid virus that can be handled under ordinary laboratory safety conditions

According to the study, published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, the resulting hybrid virus infects cells, and is recognised by antibodies in humans just like SARS-CoV-2, but can be handled under ordinary laboratory safety conditions.


"I've never had this many requests for a scientific material in such a short period of time. We've distributed the virus to researchers in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and, of course, all over the US," said study co-senior author Sean Whelan from the Washington University School of Medicine.

"In order to create a model of SARS-CoV-2 that would be safer to handle, the scientists said they started with VSV, which they added is "fairly innocuous and easy to manipulate genetically."


How it will help researchers across the globe

It can aid scientists in assessing a range of antibody-based preventives and treatments for COVID-19

It can also help identify antibodies with the potential to be developed into antiviral drugs

They can also observe whether an experimental vaccine elicits neutralizing antibodies if a COVID-19 survivor carries enough neutralizing antibodies to donate plasma to patients

"One of the problems in evaluating neutralizing antibodies is that a lot of these tests require a BSL-3 facility, and most clinical labs and companies don't have BSL-3 facilities," said Michael Diamond, who is also a professor of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine.

"With this surrogate virus, you can take serum, plasma or antibodies and do high-throughput analyses at BSL-2 levels, which every lab has, without a risk of getting infected. And we know that it correlates almost perfectly with the data we get from bona fide infectious SARS-CoV-2," Diamond said.

(with PTI inputs)

Posted By: Rakesh Kumar Jha