We have all witnessed it: A viral pandemic, COVID-19, quickly spread across the world. The pandemic took a huge toll on our economy and lifestyles. We’ve had to move events online, practice social distancing, and wear masks at all times. Businesses were shut down, schools were closed, and vaccines were created. It seems that the entire world has changed in the past two years. But in the future, will we be better armed to combat such an outbreak? Can we achieve total resistance to viruses, such as the virus causing COVID 19?
Recently, scientists at the university of Cambridge have been experimenting, and have invented a mode for full viral resistance in cells. Using this method, cells will have the potential to be naturally resistant to almost all types of viruses.
But that leaves the question, how does this method work? To understand that, we must first look at how viruses are able to affect cells. When a virus attacks a cell, it does so to make copies of itself. Unlike other organisms, viruses cannot do this by themselves. Therefore, they need a cell to do it for them. First, the virus puts its RNA or DNA into the cell. The cell, unaware of the danger in doing so, reads it and does as the genetics of the virus states. This results in the cell itself working to make more viruses. Soon, as a result of this, the cell is rapidly filled with lots of viruses, which all break free from the cell to infect other cells.
New viruses, or virions, break out of infected their human cell host
So where exactly does this newly developed solution come in? It begins with reading. Scientists already know that for a virus to be able to duplicate, the cell that the virus infects must be able to read the RNA or DNA of the virus. However, if the cell is not able to understand the RNA or DNA of the virus, this process of copying viruses will be terminated as it cannot actually begin. In order to apply this knowledge to creating a solution, scientists looked closely at how genetics was read in the cell. Genes are read by certain TRNA which can then read certain parts of the genome, also known as codons. They then bond to those codons, and start making a particular amino acid. From this knowledge, scientists hypothesized that if one of these TRNAs were removed, the cell would adapt and reassign the part of the genome with a different TRNA. It would be like changing the cell’s genetic language, by swapping certain words with others. As a result of this process, the viral genome would become completely illegible to the cell due to the change in its language. This creates a mode of viral resistance or any viral genome, as the cell can no longer read the viral genome and therefore cannot make copies of it.
The great thing about this solution is that it will work for most types of viruses, creating a resistance to many different viruses at once. With the potential to have total resistance to viruses, this method could form a valuable pathway to achieve significant defense to new viral pandemics such as COVID 19, saving countless lives in the future.