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New Delhi: Research laboratories across the world have been trying to find new clues that will help fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus, even as global toll from Covid-19 continues to increase.

Here are some of the top scientific findings on the novel coronavirus.

Cats can get infected with Covid-19, develop antibodies 

A study from Spain has found that cats can get infected with Covid-19 and develop antibodies which can bind with the virus to block it.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a team of scientists from the Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) has described the case of the first cat infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Spain.

The four-year-old cat named Negrito lives with a family who suffered from Covid-19. The animal presented severe respiratory difficulties and was taken to a veterinary hospital in Barcelona. The animal was diagnosed with a heart condition in which walls of the heart muscles become very thick.

The hospital decided to euthanize the cat due to its terminal condition.

An RT-PCR test confirmed that the animal had become infected with SARS-CoV-2 but the viral load was very low and the cat did not have any other symptoms compatible with the coronavirus infection.

Serological tests on Negrito and another cat that also lived in the same home, named Whisky, further showed that both animals had developed antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. The latter, however, did not have the Covid-19 illness.

The study concluded that immune system of cats can deal with SARS-CoV-2 and even protect them from developing symptoms in some cases.

Also read: T cells more important than antibodies in body’s immune response to Covid, finds new study

Conspiracy theories can hinder efforts to stop Covid-19 spread

Widespread belief in conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic can not only make people reluctant to accept a Covid-19 vaccine, when it becomes available, but also keep them from taking steps to prevent its spread.

In a study published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, researchers have said that pandemic conspiracy theories can become an obstacle to minimising the spread of Covid-19.

The team had found that belief in conspiracy theories during July was linked to increasing reluctance in adopting preventive behaviour, including actions such as mask-wearing and accepting a vaccine when it is available.

Conspiracy theories such as the Chinese government created the novel coronavirus as a bioweapon, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) exaggerating the danger posed by the virus to damage Donald Trump’s presidency, or that the pharma industry created the virus to increase sales of drugs and vaccines were prevalent throughout America.

The study also found that the proportion of people who believed in these theories increased between March and July. The team of researchers also said people who rely on social media for news are more likely to be misinformed.

The authors further said that conspiracy theories can be difficult to displace because they provide simple explanations for events that are not fully understood, such as the current pandemic.

These theories also play on people’s distrust in the government and other powerful institutions, and involve accusations that cannot be easily fact-checked.

Small ‘druggable pocket’ in SARS-CoV-2 spike protein found

Scientists have discovered a pocket in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which facilitates the virus’ entry into cells, that can be targeted to fight Covid-19.

The study, published in the journal Science, has suggested developing small anti-viral drugs to target the pocket.

The team used a powerful imaging technique known as electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM), to analyse SARS-CoV-2 spike protein at near-atomic resolution. This led to the discovery of a small molecule, linoleic acid (LA), buried in a pocket within the spike protein.

LA plays a vital role in inflammation and immune modulation — both key elements of Covid-19 disease progression. According to the researchers, this molecule plays a key role in disarming the body’s defenses against the virus.

Targeting this molecule may help fight Covid-19 infection.

Also read: This is why blood from newborn cattle is being used to develop Indian Covid vaccine

Nanoparticle tool to help screen for drugs against Covid-19

Scientists in the US have developed a new nanoparticle tool, which mimics the behaviour of SARS-CoV-2, that may prove to be a valuable tool in drug research for Covid-19.

The fluorescent nanoparticle tool triggers the process by which the novel coronavirus enters a cell. The tool can be used in tests to gauge the ability of drugs and compounds to block the actual virus from infecting human cells, the researchers said.

Using the actual virus in such screening studies require special facilities.

The tool, described in the journal ACS Nano, can work as a screening system to find compounds that block SARS-CoV-2 from binding to cells and infecting them.

Screening asymptomatic people can reduce infections, deaths

Screening asymptomatic people every two weeks for Covid-19, once the pandemic starts slowing down, could be a cost-effective measure to reduce infections and deaths, a study has suggested.

As the pandemic surges, screening can be cost-effective when done more often, even if the costs of tests are high, according to a research published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The study used a mathematical model developed by the research team to analyse the outcomes anticipated from several different strategies for Covid-19 testing and screening in Massachusetts, US.

The study showed that repeated screening of the entire population will lead to the most favorable clinical outcomes — preventing the greatest number of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths.

Such a screening strategy can also be cost-effective, depending on prices of tests and the frequency of screening, the researchers have said.

Also read: Sticky ‘nets’ of DNA cause tissue damage in severe Covid-19 infections, study finds


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