The alarming news comes amid forecasts Omicron is on track to become the UK’s dominant variant of coronavirus. A new study pre-published on the bioRxiv server has now claimed the mutated virus has developed the ability to bind to rodent cells. According to immunologist to Krisitan G. Andersen, the study’s authors have found the variant of concern (VOC) can bind to the ACE2 receptor in rodent cells.
In human cells, the coronavirus uses its characteristic spike proteins to bind to the ACE2 receptors, providing an entryway into the cell.
Dr Andersen tweeted: “Interesting little tidbit from this recent preprint – unlike other VOCs, Omicron appears to have gained the ability to bind to rodent ACE2.
“Hint to emergence or simply just a byproduct of (ACE2) receptor optimization/modulation?”
The expert went on to say all variants of concern “are capable of infecting” mouse cells, but the new study directly measures the virus binding to the ACE2 receptor.
Coronaviruses are a zoonotic family of pathogens, meaning they infect both humans and animals alike.
And the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is believed to have infected humans after jumping from an animal host in late 2019 in China.
Rodents have also been carriers of plague and disease in the past, responsible for some of the worst pandemics to hit the globe.
Most infamously, fleas carried by rodents are believed to have been responsible for spreading the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, in 1346.
Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist with the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted; “NEW-The new #Omicron variant can likely now infect RODENTS – the coronavirus couldn’t bind ACE2 receptor before… but looks like Omicron can now.
“I vote for elimination, because I don’t want forever #COVID19 or play whack-a-rat repeated waves of COVID.”