Researchers at Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) have narrowed down the proteins enabling SARS-CoV-2 to cause disease using advanced genetic engineering techniques.
The researchers said that they found two proteins that seem to contribute most to the virus’s pathogenicity, or ability to cause COVID-19 disease. When individually lacking those proteins, the virus did not replicate as much as the natural virus in cells, suggesting they play a critical role in its spread.
Jesus Silvas, study first author, said: “Other studies have shown these two proteins interfere with the human body’s immune response and help induce cell death. Given that, I was surprised that deleting one or the other was not enough to completely prevent the disease. There is more going on that we don’t yet understand.”
The researchers revealed that they systematically deleted the genetic code for five of the virus’s accessory proteins, one at a time, to see how each one affected the virus’s ability to spread and cause illness. The research was published online this month in the Journal of Virology.
They also added that the research has relied on several advanced genetic tools, including the K18 hACE2 transgenic mouse model for studying COVID-19 first tested with SARS-CoV-2 at Texas Biomed, and the reverse genetic approaches to engineering recombinant SARS-CoV-2, also developed at Texas Biomed by virologists Chengjin Ye, PhD and Luis Martinez-Sobrido, PhD, who led the research.
“Reverse genetics approaches are the most powerful tools in modern virology to study a virus,” said Dr Martinez-Sobrido, a Professor in the Disease Intervention & Prevention program. “It allows us to do things that we cannot do with the natural virus, such as editing, adding or deleting parts of the virus genome.”