Home / News / World /  Khosta-2 demonstrates some troubling traits: Experts explain risks of this new COVID-like virus

After COVID-19 tormented us for more than 2 years, now a new SARS-CoV-2-like virus - Khosta-2 - has been discovered in Russian bats which has the potential to infect humans, a new study has revealed. And the fact that it is resistant to current vaccines against COVID-19 makes it more worrisome. 

The study has been led by researchers at Washington State University (WSU) and its findings have been published in the journal PLoS Pathogens,

What are the similarities between Khosta-2 and COVID-19?

Both Khosta-2 and SARS- CoV-2 belong to the same sub-category of coronaviruses known as sarbecoviruses. Like COVID-19 virus, Khosta-2 also uses the spike protein to enter and infect the human cells.

"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 SARS-CoV-2," said Michael Letko, corresponding author of the study.

How different they are from other sarbecoviruses?

While hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered in recent years, predominantly in bats in Asia, the majority are not capable of infecting human cells. The Khosta-1 and Khosta-2 viruses were discovered in Russian bats in late 2020, and it initially appeared they were not a threat to humans, the researchers 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 like SARS-CoV-2, no one thought they were really anything to get too excited about," Letko said.

"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.

Should we be worried about Khosta-2? 

Though Khosta-1 poses a low risk to humans, Khosta-2 demonstrated some troubling traits.

Researchers found that like SARS-CoV-2, Khosta-2 can use its spike protein to infect cells by attaching to a receptor protein, called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), found throughout human cells.

Letko said the new virus is lacking some of the genes believed to be involved in pathogenesis in humans. There is a risk, however, of Khosta-2 recombining with a second virus like SARS-CoV-2.

"When you see SARS-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 added.

There is a need for universal COVID vaccine: Experts

The study further shows the need to develop universal vaccines to protect against sarbecoviruses in general, rather than just against known variants of SARS-CoV-2.

"Right now, there are groups trying to come up with a vaccine that doesn't just protect against the next variant of SARS-2 but actually protects us against the sarbecoviruses in general," Letko said.

"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," the scientist added.



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