Monday, August 8, 2022

‘NeoCov’ coronavirus found in bats may pose threat to humans in future, scientists caution

A type of coronavirus, NeoCov, that spreads among bats in South Africa may pose a threat to humans in future if it mutates further, according to a study by Chinese researchers.
The yet-to-be peer-reviewed study recently posted on the preprint repository BioRxiv, shows that NeoCov is closely related to the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), a viral disease first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Researchers from Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wuhan University noted that NeoCov is found in a population of bats in South Africa and to date spreads exclusively among these animals. In its current form, NeoCov does not infect humans but further mutations may make it potentially harmful, the researchers noted. “In this study, we unexpectedly found that NeoCoV and its close relative, PDF-2180-CoV, can efficiently use some types of bat Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and, less favourably, human ACE2 for entry,” the authors of the study noted.
ACE2 is a receptor protein on cells that provides the entry point for the coronavirus to hook into and infect a wide range of cells.
“Our study demonstrates the first case of ACE2 usage in MERS-related viruses, shedding light on a potential bio-safety threat of the human emergence of an ACE2 using “MERS-CoV-2” with both high fatality and transmission rate,” they said.
The researchers further noted that infection with NeoCov could not be cross-neutralised by antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 or MERS-CoV. “Considering the extensive mutations in the RBD regions of the SARS-CoV-2 variants, especially the heavily mutated Omicron variant, these viruses may hold a latent potential to infect humans through further adaptation,” the authors of the study added.
A receptor-binding domain (RBD) is a key part of a virus that allows it to dock to body receptors to gain entry into cells and lead to infection. Studies show that the COVID-19 vaccinations may not be adequate enough to protect the immune system of the people. “Furthermore, our studies have shown that the current COVID-19 vaccinations are inadequate to protect humans from eventuality of the infection caused by this virus,” added the study published by bioRxiv website.
Meanwhile, a report by the Russian news website Sputnik also said, “Our study demonstrates the first case of ACE2 usage in MERS-related viruses, shedding light on a potential bio-safety threat of the human emergence of an ACE2 using ‘MERS-CoV-2’ with both high fatality and transmission rate.”
Head of the Biotechnology Laboratory of the Gamaleya Center Sergey Alkhovsky said that the danger of the new NeoCov coronavirus discovered in bats in South Africa so far is hard to estimate,
“This is a rather serious, interesting discovery but it is very difficult to estimate the direct danger of this particular strain. We can state that there is a multitude of these strains circulating in the wild and we need to study this multitude, this genetic diversity, promote research in this area,” he said.
However, World Health Organization (WHO) asserted that it still needs to be studied whether it poses threats for humans.
“Whether the virus detected in the study will pose a risk for humans will require further study,” WHO told Russian news agency Tass.
“Animals, particularly wild animals are the source of more than 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses. Coronaviruses are often found in animals, including in bats which have been identified as a natural reservoir of many of these viruses,” WHO said.
WHO is aware of the new finding of Wuhan scientists and is in touch with the World Organization for Animal Health, the Food and Agriculture Organization to respond to this.

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