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Viral Research

We offer collaborative support and a broad portfolio of reagents that are used in research labs studying coronaviruses and other emerging viral diseases. We support scientists working to develop vaccines and to answer questions about viral pathology and treatment including:

  • How does the virus enter human cells?
  • How does the virus make people sick?
  • What treatments can be used to alleviate symptoms?
  • How can immunity to the virus be gained?

Tracking and Monitoring Viral Activity in Cells

Understanding the interactions between viral pathogens and host cells, and monitoring the effect of viral activity on cells, are essential to the development of effective anti-viral treatments or vaccines. Promega technologies are used in studies monitoring key steps in viral pathogenesis, including detecting virus interactions with host cell surface receptors, tracking and monitoring production of viral nucleic acids and proteins within the cell, and monitoring host cell viability and metabolism.


Detect Virus:Host Protein:Protein Interactions

Understanding how viruses enter host cells is a potential first step to developing a treatment or preventing infection. Viral entry is dependent on protein:protein interactions between a host cell surface receptor and the viral proteins. Protein:protein interaction assays are a valuable tool for studying these interactions.

NanoBiT® and NanoBRET™ technologies provide the sensitivity necessary to detect protein:protein interactions at the concentrations expressed in vivo.  Both are bioluminescence-based methods that are particularly useful in viral studies due to the small size and bright signal of the luciferase used. For more details, see the references and resources below.

NanoLuc technologies applied to virology

Reporter technologies are creating ways to study virus:host interactions in more detail than ever before.

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Track Recombinant Viruses and Detect Reporter Activity

Luciferase reporters provide a simple and convenient method for monitoring the effect of potential treatments, creating in vitro assays for detecting viral antibodies, and for imaging viruses in animal models. The small size of NanoLuc® Luciferase is especially useful for the creation of reporter viruses.

Other reporters, including firefly and Renilla luciferase, are often used in the creation of pseudotyped viruses. Pseudotyped virus particles are made by replacing the host-binding protein with a host-binding protein of another virus and adding a genetic reporter, allowing researchers to study the viral entry process. Pseudotyped viruses are also used to study inhibitors of the virus, such as antibodies and small molecule compounds.

Tracking SARS-CoV-2 Progression in Vivo

How imaging with NanoLuc® luciferase is being used to study viral infection and evaluate therapies.

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Advantages of a small, bright luciferase reporter

Recombinant reporter viruses are important tools for furthering our understanding of viral life cycles and lethality in cell and animal models. Reporter viruses make it easier to follow infection in the same animal over time and quantify events such as cellular entry and replication.

Insertion of large reporter genes (e.g., firefly luciferase) into the genome often causes defects in viral processes. Because of their small size, NanoLuc® and HiBiT tags can be stably inserted into the viral genome without disrupting the natural biology of the virus.

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Detect and Monitor Viral Copy Number

PCR-based methods, such as endpoint and real-time PCR and RT-PCR, are fundamental tools used in the development of viral detection tests, and for analysis of viral genomes.

GoTaq® PCR and qPCR systems and GoScript™ Reverse Transcriptase offer robust and reproducible amplification and reverse transcription for detecting and amplifying sequences for numerous viral targets. 

SARS-CoV-2 Testing

RT-qPCR based assays designed to amplify SARS-CoV-2-specific sequences are the primary method currently used for detection of active infections.
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Monitor Host Cell Function

Monitoring compounds for antiviral activity includes testing for viral-induced cytopathic effects (CPE) in host cells. A viability assay amenable to high-throughput analysis such as CellTiter-Glo® is useful for testing hundreds or thousands of compounds at once, reducing the time needed to analyze the effect of potential treatments. Viability assays are also used to support studies investigating the mechanism of action of viruses. 

In addition to cytopathic effects, viral infection induces changes in cellular metabolism. In many infectious diseases, viruses reprogram host cell metabolism to support viral replication. These virus-induced metabolic changes can be understood using assays that monitor nutrient uptake and changes in co-factors such as NADPH, among others.

Characterization of proteins by mass spectrometry is another approach used to monitor virus-induced changes in host cells. Analysis of changes in cellular proteins helps researchers understand how viruses interact with cellular pathways.

Using Cell Viability Assays in Screens for SARS-CoV-2 Drug Candidates

Dr. Colleen Jonsson of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center has been studying highly pathogenic human viruses for more than three decades. She has led several cross-institutional projects using high-throughput screens to discover small molecules that could be used as antiviral drugs. And now, she’s using that experience to find an antiviral therapeutic against SARS-CoV-2. For her high-throughput screens, Dr. Jonsson used the CellTiter-Glo® Cell Viability Assay to determine whether the small molecules inhibit virus-induced cell death. Read more here.

How the coronavirus enters cells and how to block it

Read about viral host interactions, and how cell viability assays support these studies.

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Monitor Immune Response

A key question asked by viral researchers is how a host’s immune system responds to the viral infection, including both adaptive and innate immunity. The innate immune response involves activation of inflammasomes and cytokine release. While this cytokine release is therapeutic, a “cytokine storm” can be an adverse side effect in patients that must be managed with additional therapeutics designed to block the efficacy of the released cytokines such as IL-6 and IL-15.

In addition to the innate immune response, humoral and cellular responses play key roles in host response. These questions can be answered with reporter bioassays as well as assays to detect the activity of caspase-1 and levels of cytokines in cell-based research applications.

The Cytokine Storm

Why the host immune response makes some COVID-19 cases more severe.

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RNA Production for Vaccine Research and Development

Transcribed RNA is required for vaccine production, viral standards, and basic viral research. For in vivo and in vitro studies, RiboMAX® RNA Production System generates a large quantity of high-quality RNA or mRNA  from a DNA template without the need for mammalian cells or cell components. These in-vitro transcribed viral RNA or mRNA transcripts, typically encoding a disease-specific antigen such as the spike protein of a coronavirus, may be used as inoculation material for viral infection studies. If the transcribed mRNA is to be used as a therapeutic, the mRNA encoding a desirable protein can be packaged as necessary for delivery to the tissue of interest.

Bioluminescence Detection

The bioluminescence technology used in Promega reagents for viral research make the assays highly sensitive and simple to use. GloMax® plate-readers come with pre-loaded protocols that make reading and interpreting results from Promega luminescence assays even simpler.