Swiss Scientists Have Recreated the Coronavirus in a Lab

A synthetic virus could help develop drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests but could also be used as a bioweapon

Emily Mullin
OneZero
Published in
5 min readMar 5, 2020

--

Image: NIAID/Flickr

AsAs countries scramble to contain the novel coronavirus spreading around the world, scientists in Switzerland are intentionally making more of the deadly virus. The only difference is that their version is synthetic.

Behind the doors of a high-security laboratory in a tiny Swiss village, researchers at the University of Bern recreated the coronavirus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, in just a week using yeast, a published genome, and mail-order DNA. The synthetic virus, which they detail in a new paper posted to the preprint server biorXiv, could help more labs develop drugs, vaccines, and diagnostic tests for the coronavirus. But the ability to quickly make a virus from scratch also raises concerns that the process could be used to make biological weapons.

Scientists typically study a virus by isolating it from a sick patient’s cells and growing it in a lab dish. But researchers have struggled to get their hands on the coronavirus. When an outbreak of a disease happens far away, it can take months for labs to get access to physical samples.

--

--

Emily Mullin
OneZero

Former staff writer at Medium, where I covered biotech, genetics, and Covid-19 for OneZero, Future Human, Elemental, and the Coronavirus Blog.