Recently, scientists in Belgium immunized a llama named Winter with coronavirus crowns. The antibodies produced were shown to neutralize MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV-1, and SARS-CoV-2. This is very promising as hospitals and drug companies are scrambling to find some sort of effective therapy against patients stricken with COVID-19. But why llama antibodies? What’s so special about them?
What do llamas and sharks have in common?
While llamas and other camel-like animals produce regular antibodies, they are one of two groups of animals that also produce “single domain antibodies” (VHHs). That’s not an acronym, by the way. VHH directly describes the structure of these special llama antibodies: one variable region, two heavy chains. Aside from this special structure, the reason scientists chose llamas is because sharks are the other group of animals that produce VHH antibodies. And between the two, llamas are much easier to deal with.
Why VHH antibodies?
You’re probably wondering, “Well, what’s wrong with regular antibodies? They’ve worked pretty well so far for us, right?”
And yes, normal antibodies work fine, but VHH antibodies are better! They don’t fall apart as easily under heat or acidic conditions. Because they are smaller, VHH antibodies are able to bind to other proteins and receptors without parts of the molecule getting in the way. If regular antibodies are police cars trying to neutralize viruses, VHH antibodies would be police motorcycles. They’re more versatile and able to get into small allies and make tight turns when chasing down criminals.
Of course, the ideal way to make this pandemic come to a screeching halt is by developing a vaccine. However, while we wait, having an effective way to neutralize the SARS-CoV-2 virus helps take the pressure off of hospitals. Llama antibodies also support our immune response by recognizing and binding to the virus, resulting in a faster recovery.
Get some of OUR antibodies!
If you think this type of immunology research is fascinatingly cool, then you’ll love our antibody and immune system collection. Yes, we know you make your own, but can you wear them as jewelry? We think not. Our antibodies can be worn as a bracelet, necklace, and earrings. Plus, they’ll make an excellent gift for the immunologist, microbiologist, or llama-coronavirus researcher in your life.
written by Science with Evie