Lab-Made Virus Mimics COVID-19 Virus, Can Aid Vaccine Discovery

Researchers have created a virus in the lab that infects cells and interacts with antibodies just like the COVID-19 virus but lacks the ability to cause severe disease. This safer virus makes it possible for scientists who do not have access to high-level biosafety facilities to join the effort to find drugs or vaccines for COVID-19, according to the study, published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe. To create a model of COVID-19 virus that would be safer to handle, the research team started with vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV). This virus is a workhorse of virology labs because it is fairly innocuous and easy to manipulate genetically. Primarily a virus of cattle, horses and pigs, VSV occasionally infects people, causing a mild flu-like illness that lasts three to five days.

Viruses have proteins on their surfaces that they use to latch onto and infect cells. The researchers removed VSV’s surface-protein gene and replaced it with the one from COVID-19, known as a spike. The switch created a new virus that targets cells like SARS-CoV-2 but lacks the other genes needed to cause severe disease. They dubbed the hybrid virus VSV-SARS-CoV-2.     - IANS