New Coronavirus Which Humans Are Susceptible Found in Asian Bats
As if SARS-2 which causes COVID-19 in humans hasn’t done enough damage and is finally now waning, virus hunters have discovered a new coronavirus in bats that could be another problem. This virus can infect human cells and is already able to skirt the immune protection from COVID-19 vaccines.
Just reported in the journal PLoS Pathogens, scientists led by Michael Letko, assistant professor in the Paul Allen School of Public Health at Washington State University, found a group of coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 that were initially discovered living in Asian bats in Russia in 2020. At the time, scientists did not think the virus, called Khosta-2, posed a threat to people.
However, when Letko’s team did a more careful analysis, they found that the virus could infect human cells in a laboratory setting, the first warning sign that it could become a possible public health threat. A related virus also found in the Russian bats, Khosta-1, could not enter human cells readily, but Khosta-2 could.
Khosta-2 attaches to the same protein, ACE2, that SARS-CoV-2 uses to penetrate human cells. “Receptors on human cells are the way that viruses get into cells,” says Letko. “If a virus can’t get in the door, then it can’t get into the cell, and it’s difficult to establish any type of infection.”
When Letko combined serum from people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 with Khosta-2, the antibodies in the serum did not neutralize the virus. The same thing happened when they combined the Khosta-2 virus with serum from people who had recovered from the Omicron variant coronavirus infections. As of today, this is also a completely vaccine resistant virus. However, based on the genetics of the virus, it appears unlikely to likely cause serious illness in humans. Of course, the virus could change and/or recombine in other species to indeed cause serious illness.
It’s a sobering reminder that we all live on the planet together – for better or worse.