COVID-19: University of Otago research reveals similar virus uses 'decoy strategy' to evade the immune system

The study was released on Thursday.
The study was released on Thursday. Photo credit: Getty

A virus out of Southeast Asia uses a "decoy strategy" to evade the immune system, say scientists from the University of Otago, who are now working to determine whether the coronavirus does the same thing.

The study was released on Thursday after the scientists researched a biocontrol agent called the Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus virus, a devastating pest in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. 

Led by Dr Mihnea Bostina from the university's department of microbiology, the research used electron microscopy to investigate cellular changes in the virus.

"Our study revealed that the virus acquires a membrane inside the nucleus of the infected cell and it gets fully equipped to infect new cells at this precise location. This is in contrast with other enveloped viruses - like coronavirus, which is also an enveloped virus - which derive their membranes from other cellular compartments," Dr Bostina said.

Scientists say the "decoy strategy" finding could help them better understand SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Dr Bostina said the Oryctes rhinoceros nudivirus uses a "clever tactic" by passing through different environments.

"This means they will be missed by the immune system and they can use this membrane decoy to penetrate any other type of cells, without the need of a virus-specific receptor," they said.

"It will be interesting to find in what measure other types of viruses - like the ones infecting humans - are also capable of carrying out a similar process."

Dr Bostina said they are using the same technique they used in this study to investigate cells infected with SARS-CoV-2.

"Viruses will never cease to amaze us with their indefatigable arsenal of tricks. Only by studying them can we be prepared to adequately respond when they infect us."

The study was published in the mBio journal.