ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) –The COVID-19 pandemic is pushing biologists at UNM to use animal models to conduct research pertaining to the symptoms found in people infected with SARS-COV-2. New research from the University of New Mexico is diving deeper into why some symptoms are caused by COVID-19.

Story continues below:

Irene Salinas is an associate professor of Biology at UNM. She explains, “In my lab, we are really interested in the interactions between viruses and olfactory systems.” 

Specifically, why do some people lose smell when infected with the virus? Zebrafish are widely used in biomedical research for a few reasons. “They are transparent so we can do a lot of things in terms of imaging the whole animal and they are also very good to manipulate genetically so we can tweak things in the Zebrafish to change the DNA composition,” Salinas says. 

Researchers are using the spike protein – the part of the virus responsible for infecting its host. Biology Ph.D. student Aurora Kraus says, “I can put it directly into the little fish noses and see how the nose and neurons that sense smell responded to the virus.”

Doing this helps them understand how neurons and immune cells interact in the nose and how these two functions affect your brain. “I did some histological stains and saw that the neuroepo phloem area, where the sensory neurons that detect smell live, was really extremely destroyed,” explains Kraus. 

Those leading this research at UNM are hopeful this model will help with understanding long-term COVID-19 systems and the effect of vaccines on the population.