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How the identification of attenuated forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus could help to control the current epidemic ?

​An opinion article, published in Environmental Microbiology, and written by an international consortium initiated by three researchers of Joliot Institute, proposes an original way of research on Covid-19 through the identification by sequencing of attenuated variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in populations at risk with little or no symptoms. 

Published on 12 May 2020


The current SARS‐CoV‐2 pandemic is wreaking havoc throughout the world and has rapidly become a global health emergency. A central question concerning COVID‐19 is why some individuals become sick and others not. Many have pointed already at variation in risk factors between individuals. However, the variable outcome of SARS‐CoV‐2 infections may, at least in part, be due also to differences between the viral subspecies with which individuals are infected. A more pertinent question is how we are to overcome the current pandemic. A vaccine against SARS‐CoV‐2 would offer significant relief, although vaccine developers have warned that design, testing, and production of vaccines may take a year if not longer. Vaccines are based on a handful of different designs (1), but the earliest vaccines were based on live, attenuated virus. As has been the case for other viruses during earlier pandemics, SARS‐CoV‐2 will mutate and may naturally attenuate over time (2). What makes the current pandemic unique is that, thanks to state‐of‐the‐art nucleic acid sequencing technologies, we can follow in detail how SARS‐CoV‐2 evolves while it spreads.
Here, scientists argue that knowledge of naturally emerging attenuated SARS‐CoV‐2 variants across the globe should be of key interest in the fight against the pandemic.

This approach requires the rapid establishment of an international consortium and a centralization and data processing tool (Big data). In France, a consortium involving several CEA entities (JOLIOT/DMTS, JOLIOT/I2BC and JACOB/CNRGH) is ready to act in cooperation for the search of attenuated variants. 

Contacts at Joliot institute :

Agnès Delaunay-Moisan (I2BC)
Jean Armengaud (SPI, Li2D, Marcoule)
Jean-Yves Thuret (I2BC)

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