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Can llamas stop COVID-19?

Llamas might have something that can stop COVID-19

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This Dec. 11, 2018 photo shows a llama on the Vinto homestead, on the outskirts of Santiago de Machaca, Bolivia. Friendly and endearing, the llama has wandered across the Bolivian plains in scattered herds since it was domesticated in South America more than 4,000 years ago.

This Dec. 11, 2018 photo shows a llama on the Vinto homestead, on the outskirts of Santiago de Machaca, Bolivia. Friendly and endearing, the llama has wandered across the Bolivian plains in scattered herds since it was domesticated in South America more than 4,000 years ago.

AP

Researchers have reported in a new study that llamas might have two antibodies — called nanobodies — that could prevent the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

What’s going on?

  • Researchers from the Rosalind Franklin Institute and the University of Oxfordrevealed in a new study that llamas have two antibodies that other mammals don’t, which likely comes from a genetic mutation.
  • The antibodies, called nanobodies, might help us fight COVID-19.
  • “These (nanobodies) can block — do block quite potently — the interaction between the virus and the human cell. They basically neutralize the virus,” said Ray Owens, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Oxford and one of the study’s senior authors, according to WIRED.
  • Here’s how it works: Right now, the coronavirus has spike proteins that can attached to the ACE2 protein that sits on the outside of human cells. This allows the coronavirus to enter our bodies and eventually cause COVID-19.
  • The nanobodies “have the ability to recognize and attach to a specific spot on a specific protein — in this case, the so-called spike proteins that cover the surface of the novel coronavirus.”
  • Essentially, this would block the spike proteins from attaching to the ACE2, leaving the virus to “float around harmlessly, unable to invade.”

Did it work?

  • The research team tried this out with human cells. It didn’t work at first. So they mutated the nanobody and found successful nanobodies. This stopped the coronavirus from entering human cells, per WIRED.
  • In the future, the researchers might use it as a passive immunization. So not a vaccine, but something that can be given to help people avoid infection.
  • Professor James Naismith, the director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute in the UK, told The World: “It’d probably end up in the form of a transfusion bag, but we are now testing reagents, which could be given in a different way, possibly through the nasal, sort of like, a puff up the nose. But all of that remains to be worked out.”