Rescue of SARS-CoV-2 from a Single Bacterial Artificial Chromosome

mBio. 2020 Sep 25;11(5):e02168-20. doi: 10.1128/mBio.02168-20.


Infectious coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19) emerged in the city of Wuhan (China) in December 2019, causing a pandemic that has dramatically impacted public health and socioeconomic activities worldwide. A previously unknown coronavirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been identified as the causative agent of COVID-19. To date, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vaccines or therapeutics available for the prevention or treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection and/or associated COVID-19 disease, which has triggered a large influx of scientific efforts to develop countermeasures to control SARS-CoV-2 spread. To contribute to these efforts, we have developed an infectious cDNA clone of the SARS-CoV-2 USA-WA1/2020 strain based on the use of a bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC). Recombinant SARS-CoV-2 (rSARS-CoV-2) was readily rescued by transfection of the BAC into Vero E6 cells. Importantly, BAC-derived rSARS-CoV-2 exhibited growth properties and plaque sizes in cultured cells comparable to those of the natural SARS-CoV-2 isolate. Likewise, rSARS-CoV-2 showed levels of replication similar to those of the natural isolate in nasal turbinates and lungs of infected golden Syrian hamsters. This is, to our knowledge, the first BAC-based reverse genetics system for the generation of infectious rSARS-CoV-2 that displays features in vivo similar to those of a natural viral isolate. This SARS-CoV-2 BAC-based reverse genetics will facilitate studies addressing several important questions in the biology of SARS-CoV-2, as well as the identification of antivirals and development of vaccines for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection and associated COVID-19 disease.IMPORTANCE The pandemic coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome CoV-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a major threat to global human health. To date, there are no approved prophylactics or therapeutics available for COVID-19. Reverse genetics is a powerful approach to understand factors involved in viral pathogenesis, antiviral screening, and vaccine development. In this study, we describe the feasibility of generating recombinant SARS-CoV-2 (rSARS-CoV-2) by transfection of a single bacterial artificial chromosome (BAC). Importantly, rSARS-CoV-2 possesses the same phenotype as the natural isolate in vitro and in vivo This is the first description of a BAC-based reverse genetics system for SARS-CoV-2 and the first time that an rSARS-CoV-2 isolate has been shown to be phenotypically identical to a natural isolate in a validated animal model of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The BAC-based reverse genetics approach will facilitate the study of SARS-CoV-2 and the development of prophylactics and therapeutics for the treatment of COVID-19.

PMID:32978313 | DOI:10.1128/mBio.02168-20