Where will the next deadly virus originate? This is the question plaguing scientists searching for the animal viruses that may jump into humans to cause deadly illnesses. This transfer of viruses from animals to humans, known as “”, has caused several outbreaks including the H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic of 2009 and the ongoing SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. A team of scientists led by , known as , may have just found the next threat, a virus known as swine acute diarrhea syndrome coronavirus, or SADS-CoV.
In 2016, SADS-CoV caused in Chinese swine herds. The virus is associated with acute diarrhea and vomiting in pigs, and has a high mortality rate for piglets. Considering the ability of similar coronaviruses to jump from animals into humans, Baric’s team investigated whether SADS-CoV constitutes a threat to humans. in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The team reconstructed the viral DNA of SADS-CoV in a lab and infected cells isolated from several different animals, such as monkeys, pigs, and cats. Their results show that SADS-CoV can infect cells from several different species.
The team also infected cells from human lungs and nasal passages and found that SADS-CoV can infect all of them. Though the researchers attempted to identify how SADS-CoV enters human cells, they could not find the cellular receptor responsible. However, the tools developed in this study may aid in identifying a receptor in the future, which could serve as a target for antiviral therapeutics or vaccines.
With the potential risk of SADS-CoV now identified, Dr. Baric in a press release that his team is “looking for partners to investigate the potential of SADS-CoV vaccine candidates to protect swine… vaccines may be key for limiting global spread and human emergence events in the future."
SADS-CoV has not yet infected humans, but displays several characteristics that make it a pathogen of concern. Fortunately, virus hunters like Dr. Baric and his team are researching these viruses before they cause illness in humans. By surveilling viruses in animals and creating recombinant viruses to study in the lab, researchers can determine the dynamics of viral infection and establish effective therapeutics before an outbreak even occurs.