Winter is a four-year-old chocolate-colored llama who lives on a farm in Belgium. She is also one of the possible heroes in the fight against COVID-19.
Llamas produce antibodies that are especially suited to fighting viruses. Humans produce only one kind of antibody, while llamas produce two types. One is much smaller, only 25 percent the size of human antibodies. The smaller version can access tinier pockets and crevices on spike proteins—the proteins that allow viruses to break into host cells and infect us. This makes these smaller antibodies more effective in neutralizing viruses.
Llamas’ antibodies are also easily manipulated to be linked or fused with other antibodies, including human antibodies.
This genetic characteristic is not unique to llamas—all camelids share it, including alpacas, guanacos, and dromedaries. Sharks have these smaller antibodies as well. However, as one researcher notes, they “are not a great experimental model, and are a lot less cuddly than llamas.”
In 2016, scientists looked to llamas to find a smaller antibody that could broadly neutralize many kinds of coronaviruses. They picked Winter, injecting her with spike proteins from the virus that caused the 2002-03 SARS epidemic as well as MERS, then tested her blood. They found two potent antibodies that each fought separately against both viruses.
When the new coronavirus began making headlines, they tested Winter’s antibodies against it as well. They found the same results—her antibodies effectively inhibited the coronavirus in cell cultures. They published their results in a scientific journal last week.
The researchers hope this antibody approach can eventually be used to protect people from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. While it would work immediately, its effects would not be permanent, requiring additional injections in a month or two. Researchers are moving toward clinical trials, though actual therapies for humans are several months away.
However, as one of the scientists says, “if it works, llama Winter deserves a statue.”
The future significance of present faithfulness
When God “made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds,” he “saw that it was good” (Genesis 1:25). Every dimension of what he made reflects his creative genius and design, not just for the present but also for the future.
Adam named the animals (Genesis 2:19–20), then his descendants employed them to advance human lives and culture (cf. Genesis 4:20). Those in the biblical era obviously could not know about the capacity of llama antibodies to fight viruses, but God did.
The same principle holds in your life: God can use your experiences, education, and resources for future good you cannot imagine today.
When Benjamin Franklin made advances in understanding electricity, he could not know that I would be using this resource to power the computer on which I am writing these words. When Tim Berners-Lee developed what we call the internet, he could not know that I would be using it to share biblical truth with you today.
A wise mentor once encouraged me to stay faithful to the last word I heard from God while remaining open to the next. Ask the Lord to use you where you are today, knowing that his providence has purposes for your life that you cannot understand on this side of heaven.
You cannot measure the eternal significance of present faithfulness.