Virologists from the University of Washington have found that a sarbecovirus found in bats in Russia is capable of infecting humans, according to medicalXpress in the journal PLoS Pathogens. Hundreds of sarbecoviruses, viruses in the same subcategory as the novel coronavirus, have been discovered in recent years. They are mainly found in bats in Asia, and most are unable to infect human cells. The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses, which were found in bats in Russia at the end of 2020, also initially did not seem dangerous to humans.
“Genetically, these strange Russian viruses were similar to some others that have been found elsewhere around the world, but because they weren’t similar to SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really something to worry about”, - says one. from study authors Michael Letko. “But when we looked at them in more detail, we were surprised to find that they can infect human cells. This slightly changes our understanding of these viruses and the regions in which they can appear (…) Sarbecoviruses circulating in the wild outside of Asia - even in places like western Russia - also pose a threat”.
As it turns out, Khosta-1 poses almost no risk to humans, but Khosta-2 is more dangerous. It is able to use its spike protein to infect cells by attaching to the ACE2 receptor protein found in all human cells. The study showed that existing vaccines cannot neutralize Khosta-2, and that the antibodies of those who have been infected with omicron are also ineffective against the virus.
Scientists see the biggest risk in the possible recombination of a new virus with another, such as SARS-CoV-2, and the creation of a new, potentially more dangerous pathogen.