Coronavirus: a new virus created in the laboratory causes a stir | Coronavirus
A model of SARS-CoV-2.
A virus that combines features of the original SARS-CoV-2 and the Omicron variant is causing some consternation in the scientific community.
Boston University, where the work was carried out, appears to have been taken aback by the controversy. In a statement posted online earlier this week, she assures that no rules, ethical or otherwise, have been broken, and she denies that the new virus caused the death of 80% of the mice to which it was administered, as reported by multiple media outlets.
Researchers created a hybrid version of the coronavirus in the lab by adding the Omicron variant spike protein (which is known to be highly effective at infecting human cells) to the Wuhan strain of the coronavirus.
In K18-hACE2 mice, while Omicron causes mild, non-fatal infection, the virus (with the Omicron spike protein) causes severe disease with an 80% mortality rate, write the American scientists in a study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
In particular, the hybrid virus would have caused a more severe infection in the lungs of mice than the Omicron variant.
Boston University, however, says the findings of the work have been misinterpreted. She specifies that these were mice that had been genetically modified to be more vulnerable to the coronavirus, and that between 80% and 100% of those who were exposed to the original strain of the virus (not the hybrid virus) died.
The Omicron strain was reported to have caused only moderate disease in the animals, all of which survived the ;infection.
The University also assures that the work of the researchers did not make the virus more dangerous, but quite the opposite.
The work was carried out at National Laboratories for Emerging Infectious Diseases at Boston University, Level 4 facilities designed to safely study viruses as dangerous as Ebola.
These researchers did not intend to create a new dangerous virus, which would be ethically unacceptable, commented in an email Professor Denis Leclerc, of the Department of Microbiology-Infectiology and Immunology of the Faculty of Medicine of Laval University. They just wanted to study the pathogenicity of a recombinant virus that might appear in the population. They obtained a surprising result, which arouses interest and will attract the attention of several other researchers.
This experiment sheds some light on what might happen if the Omicron variant S protein were to recombined in another context, he added.
Such studies could be used to predict an event that could eventually occur in the population, in order to better prepare, explained Professor Leclerc.
“It should be kept in mind, however, that these experiments were conducted on mice, and that these results are not necessarily applicable to humans. »
— Denis Leclerc, from the Department of Microbiology-Infectiology and Immunology of the Faculty of Medicine at Laval University
But it can give avenues to guide our research in the population and perhaps be able to more easily predict the emergence of more dangerous strains, said Professor Leclerc.