I love llamas and alpacas and basically that entire family of camelids. I’d even take a camel if I had to. And now I have come to learn that those beloved creatures could be the ones to help us combat COVID-19? LET THE LLAMAS SAVE US.
Through a genetic mutation in their ancestral tree millions of years ago and plenty of evolution since, llamas and their ilk have developed an antibody that helps them fight off diseases. It’s an antibody unique to them, and it’s one that scientists think could be promising in the fight against coronavirus.
It is all very scientific (the recent study was conducted by the Rosalind Franklin Institute and the University of Oxford), and very exciting! But what it boils down to is that scientists are looking at these nanobodies as a way of both blocking infection and treating already critically ill COVID-19 patients.
Ray Owens, who is a professor of molecular biology at the University of Oxford, is one of the study’s senior authors. Talking about what these nanobodies could do, he pointed out that they can effectively neutralize it: “These [nanobodies] can block—do block quite potently—the interaction between the virus and the human cell. They basically neutralize the virus.” And there’s also potential to aid post-infection, as Wired explains of the ongoing studies:
In the meantime, both researchers hope that their nanobodies might prove to be effective treatments for people who are severely ill with Covid-19. While a patient’s immune system struggles to mount an adequate immune response, nanobodies and other types of antibodies could function as an emergency measure to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from entering more of their cells. The same rationale is behind treatments that involve injecting a patient with plasma from a Covid-19 survivor, but transfusions come with a risk of infection and depend on donations. Until a vaccine becomes available, some researchers believe antibody treatments could be used as short-term protection for health care workers and the families of patients.
I already loved llamas, but now I really love llamas.
According to Wired, the scientists working on this are also hoping their undertakings could help to prevent outbreaks in the future as well.
“I think one of the next steps is to start trying to identify antibodies and nanobodies that can broadly bind and neutralize diverse coronaviruses. In the event there’s another coronavirus outbreak in the future, we might then already have the antibody immediately, from day one, that could work and neutralize the virus.”
Does this mean that scientists are going to instantly cure coronavirus with llama DNA? No, there’s still a ton of work to be done. But I do know that it makes me so happy to know that llamas are potentially going to get credit for helping us fight this virus. It’s what they deserve.
(image: Paramount Pictures)
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