Eye to eye with an invisible enemy through electron microscope lenses. Virus particle of SARS-CoV-2 with a "crown" of peplomers, characteristic for the coronavirus genus. Cultured isolate (SVPL 97/20) from a South African covid-19 patient. Electron microscope photo: Dr Monica Birkhead, SVP CEZPD
Eye to eye with an invisible enemy through electron microscope lenses. Virus particle of SARS-CoV-2 with a "crown" of peplomers, characteristic for the coronavirus genus. Cultured isolate (SVPL 97/20) from a South African covid-19 patient. Electron microscope photo: Dr Monica Birkhead, SVP CEZPD

SA scientists come eyey-to-eye with SARS-CoV-2 through electron microscope lenses

By ANA Reporter Time of article published May 25, 2020

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Pretoria - The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), has caught first sight of the local Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of Covid-19, the NICD said on Saturday.

"This was done by culturing the virus in a high biocontainment facility, biosafety level 3 (BSL3) laboratory, which together with biosafety level 4 (BSL4) laboratory, is the most advanced integrated high and maximum biocontainment infrastructure on the African continent," the NICD said in a statement.

Staff were required to wear highly specialised BSL3 personnel protective equipment to protect themselves while doing this painstaking work. Successful isolation of the virus was confirmed by observing changes in the cell lines used to grow the virus, called a cytopathic effect (CPE). 

Dr Jacqueline Weyer and Professor Janusz Paweska (Biosafety level 3, Special Viral Pathogens, Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Parasitic Diseases, NICD-NHLS) monitoring SARS-CoV-2 growth in cell culture by microscopic observation of cytopathic effects caused by a replicating virus. Photo: Supplied

Confirmation that this was indeed SARS-CoV-2 was done by specific diagnostic molecular assay. The cultured virus was visualised under a high powered electron microscope, the NICD said.

The capacity to culture SARS-CoV-2 from local Covid-19 cases was developed in the past few weeks by Professor Janusz Paweska and his team at the NICD. It would allow scientists to better understand the basic virology and pathogenicity of this novel coronavirus and enhance South Africa’s capacity to develop diagnostics and anti-viral compounds.

"There is also the possibility of using laboratory-grown virus for the local development of inactivated or live-attenuated Covid-19 vaccines and contribute to effective disease prevention and control," the NICD said.

African News Agency (ANA)

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