Tech & Science

Australian scientists create a lab-grown version of the coronavirus

The lab-grown copy of the virus was created from a sample of an infected patient.

Image: Wuhan coronavirus in culture / YouTube

Image: Wuhan coronavirus in culture / YouTube

A group of scientists in Australia have become the first outside of China to effectively produce a lab-grown form of the coronavirus, a feat that is being labelled a “game changer” in the global struggle against the life-threatening disease.

The researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne said the sample, which will be sent to the World Health Organisation (WHO), will be used to help create a vaccine, as well as an antibody screen test to identify the infection in patients who have yet to develop symptoms.

Julian Druce, the head of the virus identification laboratory at the institute, said that while China had already successfully grown the virus in a lab, they had only published information relating to the genetic information of the virus’ DNA, not the complete sample.

"Chinese officials released the genome sequence of this novel coronavirus, which is helpful for diagnosis, however, having the real virus means we now have the ability to actually validate and verify all test methods, and compare their sensitivities and specificities — it will be a game changer for diagnosis,” Druce said in a media release. “The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the WHO in Europe.”

Infectious disease experts from the @TheDohertyInst are available today for comment on the #coronavirus and what we can do to help protect ourselves from it. pic.twitter.com/NctRoPu99X

— UniMelb Newsroom (@uommedia) January 28, 2020

The coronavirus, which originated from a food stall in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far infected over 24,000 people in mainland China — including 3,219 severe cases and 491 deaths, according to the WHO. The virus produces symptoms similar to the flu and is spread via droplets from sneezes and coughs.

The WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern last week after an emergency meeting. Outside of China, a single death has been reported in both the Philippines and Hong Kong.

In Australia, the number of infected people currently sits at 12.

"It remains that there are 12 confirmed cases in Australia. Two in South Australia, two in Queensland, four in Victoria, and four in New South Wales. Three of those in New South Wales are clear of the virus and have been discharged,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a press conference at Parliament House on Tuesday. “I want to thank and acknowledge the work of all of the state and territory authorities. They are doing a tremendous job.”

The total number of confirmed cases of the 2019 novel #coronavirus reported from mainland China