Engineering recombinant viruses is capital for deciphering the biology of emerging viral pathogens such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). However, the large size of coronaviruses genome makes reverse genetics methods challenging.
Here we describe a simple method based on “infectious subgenomic amplicons” (ISA) technology to generate recombinant infectious coronaviruses with no need for reconstructing a full genomic cDNA. The method was applied to the SARS-CoV-2 and the feline enteric coronavirus, and allowed to rescue wild-type viruses with biological characteristics closely similar to original strains. Mutations and fluorescent red reporter gene were rapidly incorporated into the SARS-CoV-2 genome allowing the generation of a genomic variant and a fluorescent reporter strains which were studied during in vivo experiments, serological diagnosis and antiviral assays.
The swiftness and simplicity of the ISA method has the potential to facilitate the advance of coronavirus reverse genetics studies and to explore biological properties of SARS-CoV-2 variants or accelerating the development of therapeutic measures.