Khosta-2: COVID-bound virus in Russian horseshoe bats found to be transmissible to human cells

A virus in bats in Russia has been found to bind to human cells, in a discovery followed by public health experts who have been hypervigilant about zoonotic diseases since the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a further finding in the study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal PLOS Pathogens, Khosta-2 virus appears to be resistant to COVID-19 vaccines and antibodies.

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However, there is no certainty that the virus actually causes disease in humans, an expert says.

The research was conducted by a global group of immunologists who looked at two sarbecoviruses found in horseshoe bats in Russia.

Sarbecoviruses are respiratory viruses. They belong to the same family, but have a different “viral lineage” than SARS-CoV-1 and 2, the latter of which the researchers say causes COVID-19.

Hundreds of sarbecoviruses have been discovered, mostly in bats, but most are unable to infect humans.

But the researchers found that the Khosta-2 virus interacts with the same human cell entry receptor as SARS-CoV-2.

Researchers studied two sarbecoviruses found in horseshoe bats in Russia. File image. Credit: De Agostini via Getty Images

“We tested how well the spike proteins of these bat viruses infect human cells under different conditions,” says the research paper.

“We found that the peak of the virus, Khosta-2, could infect cells similar to human pathogens using the same access mechanisms, but was resistant to serum neutralization from individuals vaccinated for SARS-CoV-2.”

Paul Griffin, an infectious disease expert at the University of Queensland, said the discovery was made amid increased “surveillance” of zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases since COVID-19 spread around the world.

He says it shows that just because Khosta-2 has the ability to bind to human cell receptors, it wouldn’t necessarily infect humans.

‘Concerning element’

“There are many different things that have to happen before a virus can pass from animal species to humans,” Griffin told 7NEWS.com.au.

“It’s not just that binding capacity. It must then cause illness to be something important.

“It should also be easily transferable.

“What it does show is that it has some of the properties to cause infection in humans and the element of interest is when these viruses can be mixed together and create a recombinant virus that could combine some of those other properties and it could have the potential to cause disease.”

Changing Planet

Griffin said immunology research is increasing amid environmental changes such as climate change, deforestation and urban sprawl, meaning animals and humans are living closer together.

“We’re seeing a big change in what’s happening with these so-called zoonotic infections, as we’re changing the environment around us and increasing the potential for interaction,” he said.

He and the research team have called for more research into Khosta-2.

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