Tiny Antibody-Like Proteins (VNARs) from Sharks Neutralize COVID-19 Virus, Help Prepare for Future Coronaviruses

Small, unique antibody-like proteins known as VNARs (variable new antigen receptors)--derived from the immune systems of sharks--can prevent the virus that causes COVID-19, its variants, and related coronaviruses from infecting human cells, according to a new study published online in Nature Communications on December 16, 2021. The open-access article is titled “Mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2 Neutralization by Shark Variable New Antigen Receptors Elucidated Through X-Ray Crystallography.” The authors note that “single-domain VNARs from the immune system of sharks are the smallest naturally occurring binding domains found in nature. Possessing flexible paratopes [antigen-binding sites] that can recognize protein motifs inaccessible to classical antibodies, VNARs have yet to be exploited for the development of SARS-CoV-2 therapeutics.” [Editor’s note: Shark VNARs are similar to so-called “nanobodies,” tiny antibodies first identified in camels, and later in llamas, and which are also being investigated for use as anti-SARS-CoV-2 molecules.]

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