Bacteria could be key to curing this and other viruses, say researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, following a finding they compare with the discovery of antibiotics
September 24, 2020 Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
In humans, enzymes that fight viruses, known as viperins, are released into the bloodstream when the body detects an infection (REUTERS)
Bacteria could be the key to curing COVID-19 according to the team at the Weizmann Institute of Science, which has identified the molecules bacteria produce to protect themselves when attacked by viruses.
Israeli researchers liken their discovery to that of antibiotics, noting that it could be the key to creating drugs that cure various viruses, perhaps the coronavirus as well.
The head of the research assured that this discovery could help create treatments that cure different viruses. “And maybe offer a solution for the next pandemic or even this one,” said Rotem Sorek of Weizmann's department of Molecular Genetics.
Consulted by Infobae, the specialist explained: “We discovered that some bacteria generate antiviral molecules that help them fight phages (viruses that infect bacteria). These molecules inhibit the replication of viral genetic material, which is a very basic machinery in virus biology. We believe that these molecules should also work against some viruses that infect humans, and if they do, they could be used as drugs to cure the viral infection. “
An Israeli pharmaceutical company, Pantheon Biosciences, has already obtained the rights to develop antiviral drugs based on the finding (REUTERS)
The parallel that he finds between this discovery and that of antibiotics is that in bacteria and fungi there are compounds that are capable of killing or stopping bacterial infections.
In recent years it has been shown, by Sorek and other researchers, that bacteria have very sophisticated immune systems despite their microscopic size. Furthermore, Sorek's team has discovered that viperin , an enzyme of the mammalian immune system, is also part of the immune system of bacteria.
In humans, the viperine part of the innate immune system, the oldest part of the immune system in terms of evolution. It occurs when a signaling substance called interferon alerts the immune system to the presence of pathogenic viruses. Then, it releases a special molecule that can act against a wide range of viruses, with a simple rule: the molecule “mimics” nucleotides, fragments of genetic material necessary to replicate viral genomes. But the viperin molecule is false: it is missing a vital piece that allows the next nucleotide in the growing strand to attach itself. Once the false nucleotide is inserted into the replicating viral genome, replication stops and the virus dies.
“Many people are surprised that viruses attack bacteria and that bacteria have their own defense systems,” explained the specialist. And he added: “And we have discovered that one of the ways in which bacteria defend themselves against viruses is by making their viperin produce antiviral components, which are small molecules that prevent the virus from multiplying within the bacteria.”
The researchers discovered the components in a large project in which they analyzed the genetic sequences of some 100,000 bacteria and found that hundreds of them generated viperin (REUTERS)
The team noted that the mechanism that prevents the virus from replicating could also prevent the reproduction of viruses that affect humans. “It is something that is not yet proven, but we are testing it right now,” Sorek said .
The researchers discovered the components in a large project in which they analyzed the genetic sequences of about 100,000 bacteria and found that hundreds of them generated viperin.
Sorek said that the discovery is exciting because he discovered a family of molecules and that is what leads him to think that the different molecules could be used to fight against different types of viruses.
If bacterial viperins are effective against human viruses, the professor believes they may pave the way for the discovery of other molecules generated by the bacterial immune system that could be adopted as antiviral drugs for human diseases. “As we did decades ago with antibiotics, antibacterial substances that were first discovered in fungi and bacteria, we could learn to identify and adopt antiviral strategies from organisms that have been fighting infections for hundreds of millions of years,” he concluded.
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