Boston University’s coronavirus experiment reveals a new vulnerability in Omicron


Controversial Corona Virus An experiment at Boston University has identified a mutation in an Omicron variant that may help explain why it isn’t as likely to get sick or killed as the original strain that emerged in China. This discovery could provide scientists with a new target for designing treatments that reduce the severity of the coronavirus.

the Reportpublished Wednesday in the journal Nature, comes three months after researchers published an early version of the study that ignited a media firestorm, as well as confusion over exactly who funded the work and whether it required greater government oversight.

In a lab experiment, the researchers combined the spike protein from an early strain of omicron with the spine of the original strain that emerged in Wuhan, China. Drawing work, though not dramatically different from many other experiences media attention And he sparked fears that such manipulation of the coronavirus could unleash a more dangerous variant.

Supporters of the work counter that this experiment was fairly routine for pathogen research, which often involves creating “recombinant” viruses that mimic what happens in nature. The experiment was conducted by researchers wearing several layers of protective equipment inside the biosafety level 3 lab at the university’s highly secure National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratory.

The purpose of creating such a “chimeric” virus, which the scientists named Omi-S, was to try to understand which mutations in the omicron might be responsible for making it seem less pathogenic — that is, less likely to cause severe disease — than the original strain.

The chimeric virus was grown just like the omicron in cell cultures. Turns out Omi-S was just that Less harmful in mice than the ancestral strain, with a mortality rate of 80% instead of 100%. It was still more deadly than the omicron.

The research showed that the severely mutated Omicron protein plays a role in making the variant less pathogenic than the ancestral strain. But Omi-S’ behavior suggested that lead researcher Mohsen Saeed, assistant professor of biochemistry at Boston University, and other study co-authors to suggest that there must be something else contributing to the phenomenon.

The researchers kept experimenting, and now they claim to have found at least one missing piece of the puzzle: a mutation involving a protein called nsp6.

Unlike the spiky protein studded across the surface of the coronavirus, nsp6 is a “non-structural” protein, As its name suggests. The researchers point out that many of the proteins encoded by SARS-CoV-2 are not part of the coronavirus’ main framework but instead interact with the host in often-mysterious ways.

said Ronald Corley, chair of the department of microbiology at Boston University’s Tchobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine.

“This represents a target protein for therapeutics,” said Corley, who is not a co-author of the paper but was director of the lab until recently.

The research drew widespread attention in October after Said published it Early version of the study On bioRxiv preprint server, where the scientists put Thousands of early drafts of their research on coronavirus prior to formal peer review.

Critics of Pathogen Research It has long been asserted that this field lacks adequate safety reviews and oversight, and that some trials are too risky to warrant any potential increase in knowledge. The Boston University experiment has been seen as an example of “gain-of-function” research, in which a virus is manipulated in a way that makes it either more transmissible or more pathogenic.

Corley and other advocates counter that the experiment made the ancestral strain less lethal in mice.

Complicating the debate is uncertainty about whether the National Institutes of Health funded the trial. The original preprint cited the National Institutes of Health as one of the funding sources, but the university said the research was done independently. A spokesperson for the National Institutes of Health later confirmed that the agency did not fund the work.

Robert F. Jarry, a Tulane University virologist who was not part of the study, said in an email that more research needs to be done on nsp6 to understand its significance. He also dismissed concerns that such research is too dangerous.

“The mere fact that it has passed peer review should alert everyone to the fact that previous ‘concerns’ are exaggerated and alarmist,” said Gary.

The National Institutes of Health assigned a Biosafety Review Board Early last year with a reconsideration of all guidelines and protocols for research on potential pandemic pathogens, as well as what is known as “dual-use research of concern,” in which research intended to benefit human health could also be weaponised.

The Biosafety Council has indicated that it will recommend an expansion of the definition Experiments requiring special review. The board will release its report in the coming weeks, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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