Research with infectious SARS-CoV-2 is complicated because it must be conducted under biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) conditions. Recently, we constructed a live attenuated SARS-CoV-2 virus by rational design through partial recoding of the SARS-CoV-2 genome and showed that the attenuated virus, designated sCPD9, was highly attenuated in preclinical animal models. The recoded sequence was designed by codon pair deoptimization and is located at the distal end of gene ORF1ab. Codon pair deoptimization involves recoding of the viral sequence with underrepresented codon pairs but without altering the amino acid sequence of the encoded proteins. Thus, parental and attenuated viruses produce exactly the same proteins. In Germany, the live attenuated SARS-CoV-2 mutant sCPD9 was recently classified as a BSL-2 pathogen based on its genetic stability and strong attenuation in preclinical animal models. Despite its high attenuation in vivo, sCPD9 grows to high titers in common cell lines, making it suitable as substitute for virulent SARS-CoV-2 in many experimental setups. Consequently, sCPD9 can ease and accelerate SARS-CoV-2 research under BSL-2 conditions, particularly in experiments requiring replicating virus, such as diagnostics and development of antiviral drugs.
Keywords: Antiviral development; Biosafety level 2; Codon pair deoptimization; Large-scale genome recoding; Modified live virus vaccine; SARS-CoV-2; Viral diagnostics.
© 2022 The Author(s).