SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — A University of South Dakota graduate is studying SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19.

Maddie Butterfield is a second-year rising grad student at Kansas State University studying veterinary medicine. However, she is researching the SARS-CoV-2 virus for both humans and animals.

Butterfield was selected for the Kansas State veterinary research scholars program. The group does veterinary research in the summer and, this year, had planned on studying H1N1. When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, the lab converted to coronavirus research.

With this being a new virus, Butterfield said, scientists don’t have a lot of basic information like they do other common viruses, like the flu or measles. By researching SARS-CoV-2, Butterfield and her colleagues are learning various things that will help in developing drugs or treatment plans for COVID-19.

“So, we’re still learning things like, what happens to the body long term after infection or what parts of the immune system are activated at what times or what happens on a very cellular level after infection,” Butterfield said.

Through Butterfield’s research, she’s learning that SARS-CoV-2 is infectious to humans, dogs, cats, and even big cats too (i.e. lions, tigers, etc.). Except, one astonishing discovery is that these animals can’t transmit the virus back to people.

Viruses belong to different families, according to Butterfield, and SARS-CoV-2 belongs to the coronavirus family.

“SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. So, COVID-19 is just the disease processed in the pathogen that causes the SARS-CoV-2,” Butterfield said.

Butterfield shared via her Twitter thread that on a genetic level, the virus is incredibly stable. She said this discovery is great news because towards the beginning of the pandemic that question caused a lot of concern.

By looking at genetic data globally from transmission in cats and in humans, Butterfield said the virus isn’t changing in ways that would impact how we test for COVID-19 or anything those diagnostics were based off of.

She did say that in her study there were a few small mutations in the cats they were testing and sampling in. Butterfield said the team’s next steps are to research and understand why those mutations are happening and what that change looks like in respect to the human coronavirus.

“As a veterinary student, to be working on a human pathogen has been really interesting because it’s something we talk about a lot; that human health, veterinary health and environmental health have a ton of overlap. And so, to be able to work on this, we call it one health, to be able to perform one health research can really integrate all of these different disciplines. (It) has been really cool to see how much more efficiently we can solve all of these different problems,” Butterfield said.

The findings through Butterfield’s experiments aren’t the only positive thing to come from SARS-CoV-2 research.

“You know, as stressful and divisive as all of this time is, it’s been really cool to work with such global collaboration. I’m working with data sets from dozens of different countries and so the overwhelming feeling of this research is one of just massive hope,” Butterfield said.

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