Synthetically reconstructing the SARS-CoV-2 virus

Tamal Das, TIFR Hyderabad

After almost half-a-year into the pandemics, we are still learning new things about the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. In fact, every time there has been a new outbreak like SARS, MERS, or Ebola, scientists and healthcare personnel have struggled to understand what exactly the virus is, what is there its genome sequences, and how it is infecting people, in the initial phase. In this phase, at best we usually have only bits of pieces of information about the viral genome, while the full genome sequence remains elusive. To solve this problem, scientists at the University of Bern in Switzerland have now optimized a system that allows them to clone and reconstruct coronavirus and other viruses from the fragments of viral genome isolated from patient samples, in a week’s time. For this reconstruction, they have used the ability of baker’s yeast cells to recombine overlapping DNA fragments and to store the genetic information of a virus in its own genome. The artificial yeast then produces the viral RNAs, and if these RNAs are introduced into animal cells, they in turn generate new virus clones. Scientists plan to use these reconstructed virus clones for inventing new diagnostic testing, screening new antiviral drugs, and developing vaccines very quickly. This breakthrough thus enables us to mount a rapid response to any new virus in real-time, especially in the initial phase of a pandemic.

[Last update 26 May 2020]