Forget the lab rat: Llama, ferret and hamster join coronavirus fight

Lab llamas have replaced rats as the go-to experimental mammals in the age of coronavirus.

The camel’s cousin is, along with the domesticated polecat — aka ferret — and hamster, have joined the front lines of the scientific battle against COVID-19.

The llama may have antibodies that can help neutralize the deadly infection, while the ferret and the hamster respond in much the same way as humans do when they come down with COVID-19.

Work by Belgian and American researchers, based at the Vlaams Institute for Biotechnology in Ghent, shows the llama antibodies may be effective in treating the coronavirus, the Sunday Times of London reported.

The antibodies, first used in HIV studies, have proved to combat a wide range of viruses, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Their effectiveness is tied to their tiny size, which lets them target microscopic viruses more effectively, the researchers wrote.

Scientists in Asia made the discovery about the ferret and hamster.

South Korean researchers, in the journal Cell Host & Microbe, reported that ferrets infected with Covid-19 responded very similarly to humans and would be “a useful tool to evaluate the efficacy of [antiviral treatments] and preventive vaccines.”

Researchers at Hong Kong University found the same with Syrian hamster, writing that the rodent’s response to COVID-19 “closely resemble the manifestations of upper and lower respiratory tract infection in humans.”

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