Bacteria Part Of The Immune System Could Provide Antivirals Against COVID-19, Influenza

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oi-Amritha K

on October 1, 2020

In a recent study published by a group of scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the researchers have stated the discovery of a gold mine of antiviral substances that may lead to the development of highly effective antiviral drugs.

The findings added that this could help in the development of antivirals for human viruses such as the influenza virus and Covid-19 [1].

What Are Antivirals?

Antivirals are a class of medications that are used to treat viral infections. These prescription medicines which are available in the form of pills, liquid, an inhaled powder, or an intravenous solution wards off the flu viruses in your body.

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Antiviral therapy aids in the minimization of symptoms and infectivity and also shorten the duration of illness [2]. Most antivirals target specific viruses, while a broad-spectrum antiviral is effective against a wide range of viruses.

Antiviral drugs, unlike most antibiotics, do not destroy their target pathogen; instead, they inhibit its development and act by arresting the viral replication cycle (spread of diseases within the body) at various stages [3]. That is, antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections. Most of the antiviral drugs now available are designed to help deal with HIV, herpes viruses, Covid-19, the hepatitis B and C viruses, and influenza A and B viruses [4].

What Did The Study Results Reveal?

The group of researchers found antiviral substances that are made by virus-fighting enzymes known as viperin, which were previously known to exist only in mammals, and have now been found in bacteria [5].

Studies conducted over the past decade by Prof. Rotem Sorek and his group in the Institute’s Molecular Genetics Department have revealed that the bacteria have highly sophisticated immune systems, despite their microscopic size. That is, they are equipped to fight off viruses that infect bacteria [6].

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The paper added these bacteria differ from the kind that infects humans in their choice of targets. Still, they all consist of genetic material, DNA or RNA, that hijacks parts of the host’s replication machinery to make copies of themselves and spread.

Some of these bacterial immune responses suggest evolutionary links to our immune systems. It was found that viperin antiviral enzymes, whose function in the human immune system was understood only two years ago, play a role in the immune system of bacteria.

The researchers developed techniques to detect bacterial sequences encoding possible viperin and found that viperin did protect bacteria against infection.

How Can Viperin Help Produce Antivirals?

In humans, viperin belongs to the innate immune system, the oldest part of the immune system in terms of evolution. It is produced when a signalling substance called interferon alerts the immune system to the presence of pathogenic viruses [7].

The viperin then releases a unique molecule that can act against a broad range of viruses by mimicking, that is, the molecule mimics nucleotides (organic molecules that are a combination of a nucleic acid base and a sugar), bits of the genetic material needed to replicate their genomes [8].

But as the viperin molecule is a mimicked one and not a real one, it will be missing a vital piece that enables the next nucleotide in the growing strand to attach. Once the faux nucleotide is inserted into the replicating viral genome, replication comes to a halt, and the virus dies.

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Whereas the human viperin produces a single kind of antiviral molecule, we found that the bacterial ones generate a surprising variety of molecules, each of which can potentially serve as a new antiviral drug. We found that this important component of our antiviral immune system originated in the bacterial defence against viruses that infect them,” said the head researcher [9].

Suppose the bacterial viperin prove effective against human viruses. In that case, it may pave the way for the discovery of further molecules generated by bacterial immune systems that could be adopted as antiviral drugs for human diseases [10].

The researcher continued, “As we did decades ago with antibiotics – antibacterial substances that were first discovered in fungi and bacteria – we might learn how to identify and adopt the antiviral strategies of organisms that have been fighting the infection for hundreds of millions of years.”

On A Final Note…

The molecules produced by the bacterial viperin are currently undergoing testing against human viruses such as the influenza virus and COVID-19. The study was published in Nature.


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