Llamas are known as cute but highly temperamental – they spit, up to 10 feet – but now one South American expat in the UK called Fifi might be the answer to all our collective prayers:
Researchers from England say llama antibodies are helping to create a new treatment to fight severe cases of COVID-19.
A team from the Rosalind Franklin Institute, Oxford University, Diamond Light Source, and Public Health England have found a way to create “nanobodies” that can neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19.
Fifi’s antibodies/nanobodies don’t kill the virus, just stop it breaking in:
The nanobodies work by binding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and blocking its entry into human cells. The virus cells have a set of proteins on its surface known as spike proteins. These spikes help the virus break into human cells, binding to the human ACE-2 receptor. This gene is commonly found in the lungs, where COVID-19 can cause severe complications.
Researchers say their nanobodies attach to the spike proteins, making them unable stick to ACE-2 genes. Since the virus can’t enter human cells, the llama nanobodies effectively neutralize the virus.
“The electron microscopy structures showed us that the three nanobodies can bind to the virus spike, essentially covering up the portions that the virus uses to enter human cells,” explains David Stuart of Diamond Light Source and Oxford University.
Llamas have been used as South America’s virtually only pack animals for the past five millennia, and their odorless poo has been burned as fuel throughout the Andes. They’re also an excellent source of wool not to mention they also make (surprisingly) good guard animals for herds of sheep or alpacas. Work has already been going on in the past to develop a universal flu vaccine from their antibodies, but if they can help fight Coronavirus they will probably get nominated for both Nobel Prizes in Medicine and Peace.