Wildlife Wednesdays: Llamas to the Rescue! | weatherology°
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By: Meteorologist Megan Mulford
Updated: Feb 7th 2022

Wildlife Wednesdays: Llamas to the Rescue!

Many scientists and researchers are racing to find a vaccine to cure our current health crisis. According to a paper published in the Journal "Cell," researchers at the University of Texas-Austin, the National Institutes of Heath and Belgium's Ghent University, said that antibodies found in llamas could potentially fight this. 

Jason McLellan, co-author of the study, mentions that "one of the first antibodies known to neutralize our current health crisis has been discovered." Back in 2016, scientists injected a llama named Winter, who was 9 months old at the time, with both SARS and MERS, hoping to find a cure for them. A llama's immune system produces two types of antibodies when it detects a virus or viruses in its system. One similar to humans and one about a quarter of the size. In Winter, the antibodies were found to be "effective in targeting the SARS virus's spike protein, which allows it to bind to human cells". The other antibody was able to neutralize MERS, McLellan mentions in article.  At first, the scientists though this was just a side project back in 2016. Dorien De Vlieger, from Ghent University of Belgium, said "now the scientific impact of this project became bigger than I ever could expect."

Fast forward to this year in the midst of the outbreak, they decided to test the antibodies that Winter, now 4, had produced during the SARS and MERS experiment to determine if it could prove effective against current health crisis. The researchers found that a new antibody, "created by linking two copies of the llama antibody that fought off SARS, was able to neutralize the virus." "The smaller type of antibodies produced by llamas, called single-domain antibodies or nano-bodies, can be used in an inhaler", according to Daniel Wrapp, Co-author from University of Texas. “That makes them potentially really interesting as a drug for a respiratory pathogen because you're delivering it right to the site of infection,” he goes onto mention. 

Winter lives on a farm operated by Ghent University's Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology. It has around 130 other llamas and alpacas at the facility. The researchers are preparing more trials with hamsters or primates before they start testing on humans.