Researchers from Sunnybrook Research Institute, McMaster University and the University of Toronto, all in Canada, isolated the virus from two specimens and then cultivated it in a secure containment facility.
This does not mean isolating people infected with the virus, but means scientists have successfully obtained a pure sample of the virus, which they have contained outside the human body and can then study.
The team said the lab-grown samples would help scientists in Canada and across the world develop better diagnostic testing, treatments and vaccines to fight the coronavirus.
It is not the first time the virus has been isolated. Chinese scientists first did so, and research teams in Australia and Italy are also among those who have isolated and grown samples of the virus in laboratories.
However, as viruses continuously mutate and evolve, there are now several strains of the coronavirus, which are collectively known as Sars-CoV-2.
Covid-19 is the name given to the clinical illness these viruses cause.
Every time a virus infects someone and replicates in their respiratory tract, it mutates, with about half a dozen genetic mutations occurring. In the current outbreak, the mutations have led to two main strains of the virus emerging. The one most closely associated with the outbreak in Wuhan is more prevalent, and it is reportedly more virulent. The second one is less prevalent so far, and it has a lesser impact on its host, research shows.
But each isolation of the virus allows scientists to see how quickly the Sars-CoV-2 virus is mutating, and what the implications of the mutations may be for humans.
Dr Samira Mubareka, microbiologist and infectious diseases physician at Sunnybrook said: “We need key tools to develop solutions to this pandemic.
“While the immediate response is crucial, longer-term solutions come from essential research into this novel virus.”
Her colleague Dr Rob Kozak, a clinical microbiologist at Sunnybrook, said: “Researchers from these world-class institutions came together in a grassroots way to successfully isolate the virus in just a few short weeks.
“It demonstrates the amazing things that can happen when we collaborate.”
Dr Arinjay Banerjee, of McMaster University, said the research the team has conducted will inform scientists studying the virus round the world.
“Now that we have isolated the Sars-CoV-2 virus, we can share this with other researchers and continue this teamwork,” he said.
“The more viruses that are made available in this way, the more we can learn, collaborate and share.”
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