Viruses thrive by exploiting the cells they infect, but in order to replicate and infect other cells they must produce viral proteins. As a result, viruses are also susceptible to exploitation by defective versions of themselves that do not produce such proteins. A defective viral genome with deletions in protein-coding genes could still replicate in cells coinfected with full-length viruses. Such a defective genome could even replicate faster due to its shorter size, interfering with the replication of the virus. We have created a synthetic defective interfering version of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing the Covid-19 pandemic, assembling parts of the viral genome that do not code for any functional protein but enable the genome to be replicated and packaged. This synthetic defective genome replicates three times faster than SARS-CoV-2 in coinfected cells, and interferes with it, reducing the viral load of infected cells by half in 24 hours. The synthetic genome is transmitted as efficiently as the full-length genome, suggesting the location of the putative packaging signal of SARS-CoV-2. A version of such a synthetic construct could be used as a self-promoting antiviral therapy: by enabling replication of the synthetic genome, the virus would promote its own demise.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)