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Boston University coronavirus experiment reveals new weak spot in omicron

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controversial coronavirus Experiments at Boston University have identified mutations in the Omicron variant that may help explain why it appears to be less likely to get sick or die than the original strain that emerged in China. The findings may provide scientists with new targets for designing treatments that limit the severity of covid.

of reportThe paper, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, comes three months after researchers posted an early version of the study that sparked a media storm, and who exactly funded the study. There was some confusion as to whether or not greater government oversight was needed.

In lab experiments, the researchers combined the backbone of the original strain that emerged in Wuhan, China, with the spike protein of the early lineage of Omicron. This work is not very different from many other experiments, but media attention And it has raised concerns that such manipulation of the coronavirus could unleash a more dangerous variant.

Proponents of the experiment argue that it is fairly routine in pathogen research and often involves creating “recombinant” viruses that mimic what happens in nature. The experiment was conducted by researchers wearing multiple layers of protective clothing in a biosafety level 3 laboratory at the university’s highly secure National Institute of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The goal of creating such a ‘chimeric’ virus, which the scientists have named Omi-S, is related to which mutations in omicron are seemingly less pathogenic, i.e. less likely to cause severe disease. I was trying to understand what it could be. than the original strain.

The chimeric virus grew similarly to Omicron in cell culture. It turned out to be only Omi-S It is slightly less virulent in mice than the ancestral strain, with 80% mortality instead of 100%. Still deadlier than Omicron.

This study showed that the highly mutated spike protein in omicron plays a role in making the mutant less pathogenic than the ancestral strain. But Omi-S’ behavior suggests to his Mohsan Saeed, principal investigator and assistant professor of biochemistry at Boston University, and other co-authors of the study that there must be something else contributing to the phenomenon. was suggesting.

The researchers continued their experiments and now claim to have found at least one missing piece of the puzzle. It’s a mutation associated with a protein called nsp6.

Unlike the surface-encrusted spike proteins of coronaviruses, nsp6 is a ‘non-structural’ protein, as its name suggests. Researchers point out that many proteins encoded by SARS-CoV-2 are not part of the coronavirus mainframe and often interact with the host in mysterious ways.

“What makes the paper important is that for the first time there is another gene encoded by the SARS-CoV-2 virus that has been shown to be involved in virulence,” said Chobanian & Avedician Medicine, Boston University. University.

“It represents a therapeutic target protein,” said Corey, who was not a co-author of the paper but was the institute’s director until recently.

The study received widespread attention in October after Said posted it. Early version of the survey On the preprint server bioRxiv placed by the scientist thousands of early drafts of their coronavirus research prior to formal peer review.

Pathogen research critic Researchers have long argued that the field lacks adequate safety review and oversight, and that some experiments are too risky to justify the potential increase in knowledge. The Boston University experiment was considered an example of “gain of function” research. In this study, viruses are manipulated in ways that make them more contagious or pathogenic.

Corey and other advocates of the experiment countered that it was actually an ancestral strain less lethal in mice.

Complicating the discussion was the uncertainty about whether the National Institutes of Health funded the experiment. The university said the research was done independently. An NIH spokesperson later confirmed that the NIH did not fund the work.

Robert F. Garry, a Tulane University virologist who was not involved in the study, said in an email that more research is needed to understand the importance of nsp6. He also dismissed concerns that such research would be too risky.

“The mere fact that it has passed peer review should warn everyone of the fact that their previous “concerns” were exaggerated and caused a stir.

The National Institutes of Health Biosafety Review Board Earlier last year, all guidelines and protocols for research on potential pandemic pathogens and “dual-use research of concern” where research aimed at benefiting human health could also be weaponized. We revisited what is known as

The Biosafety Committee suggests broadening the definition of a virus. Experiments that require special reviewThe board will release a report in the coming weeks, according to the NIH.

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