Recently, a virus was discovered in a bat in Russia, and is quite similar to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to a new study, published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, it is likely to infect humans and, if spreads, is also resistant to the currently available vaccines. A team of researchers in Washington State University's Paul G. Allen School for Global Health found that the spike proteins from the bat virus, called Khosta-2, can affect human cells and does not respond to both the monoclonal antibodies and serum from vaccinated people for SARS-CoV-2. Both Khosta-2 and SARS- CoV-2 are from the same sub-category of Coronaviruses, called sarbecoviruses.
Michael Letko, corresponding author of the study, said, "Our research further demonstrates that sarbecoviruses circulating in wildlife outside of Asia -- even in places like western Russia where the Khosta-2 virus was found -- also pose a threat to global health and ongoing vaccine campaigns against S-CoV-2." The findings of the study focus on the need to make universal vaccines to provide protection against sarbecoviruses generally, instead of just against known variants of S-CoV-2. Letko said, "Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn't just protect against the next variant ofS-2 but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general."
The scientists added, "Unfortunately, many of our current vaccines are designed to specific viruses we know infect human cells or those that seem to pose the biggest risk to infect us." There are many sarbecoviruses that have been discovered in the past few years, usually in bats in Asia, and most of them cannot infect human cells. The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in bats in Russia in the year 2020, and it earlier looked like they were not a risk for humans, the researchers said. Letko said, "Genetically, these weird Russian viruses looked like some of the others that had been discovered elsewhere around the world, but because they did not look likeS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really anything to get too excited about."
"But when we looked at them more, we were really surprised to find they could infect human cells. That changes a little bit of our understanding of these viruses, where they come from and what regions are concerning," he added. Letko said that this virus does not contain some of the genes that are generally involved in pathogenesis in humans. But, there is a risk, of Khosta-2 recombining with another virus likeS-CoV-2. "When you seeS-2 has this ability to spill back from humans and into wildlife, and then there are other viruses like Khosta-2 waiting in those animals with these properties we really don't want them to have, it sets up this scenario where you keep rolling the dice until they combine to make a potentially riskier virus," Letko further added.