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Beijing: Wuhan is back in the news as a team of scientists have warned of a lethal variant called ‘NeoCov’ that requires only one mutation to infiltrate human cells and carries the combination of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS)-CoV mortality rate (where one in every three infected persons may die) and the current SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus high transmission rate. According to the scientists from Wuhan University in China, NeoCov can penetrate human cells in the same way as the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“It is only one mutation away from becoming dangerous for humans,” researchers said in a paper posted on preprint website bioRxiv which has not been peer-reviewed yet. NeoCoV has been discovered among bats in South Africa and has only been known to spread among these animals to date. The MERS-CoV and several bat coronaviruses employ ‘DPP4’ as their functional receptors.

However, the receptor for NeoCoV, the closest MERS-CoV relative yet discovered in bats, remains ‘enigmatic’. In the study, the researchers unexpectedly found that NeoCoV and its close relative, PDF-2180-CoV, can efficiently use some types of bat Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and, less favourably, human ACE2 for entry. 

“NeoCoV efficiently infects human ACE2 expressing cells after a T510F mutation on the receptor-binding motif (RBM). Notably, the infection could not be cross-neutralised by antibodies targeting SARS-CoV-2 or MERS-CoV,” the study showed.



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