Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the highly contagious agent responsible for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. An essential requirement for understanding SARS-CoV-2 fundamental biology and the impact of anti-viral therapeutics are robust methods to detect for the presence of the virus in infected cells or animal models. Despite the development and successful generation of recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2 expressing fluorescent or luciferase reporter genes, knowledge acquired from their use in in vitro assays and/or in live animals are limited to the properties of the fluorescent or luciferase reporter genes. Herein, for the first time, we engineered a replication-competent rSARS-CoV-2 that expresses both fluorescent (mCherry) and luciferase (Nluc) reporter genes (rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc) to overcome limitations associated with the use of a single reporter gene. In cultured cells, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc displayed similar viral fitness as rSARS-CoV-2 expressing single reporter fluorescent and luciferase genes (rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry and rSARS-CoV-2/Nluc, respectively), or wild-type (WT) rSARS-CoV-2, while maintaining comparable expression levels of both reporter genes. In vivo, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc has similar pathogenicity in K18 human angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (hACE2) transgenic mice than rSARS-CoV-2 expressing individual reporter genes, or WT rSARS-CoV-2. Importantly, rSARS-CoV-2/mCherry-Nluc facilitates the assessment of viral infection and transmission in golden Syrian hamsters using in vivo imaging systems (IVIS). Altogether, this study demonstrates the feasibility of using this novel bireporter-expressing rSARS-CoV-2 for the study SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and in vivo.IMPORTANCE
Despite the availability of vaccines and antivirals, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) continues to ravage health care institutions worldwide. Previously, we have generated replication-competent recombinant (r)SARS-CoV-2 expressing fluorescent or luciferase reporter proteins to track viral infection in vitro and/or in vivo. However, these rSARS-CoV-2 are restricted to express only a single fluorescent or a luciferase reporter gene, limiting or preventing their use to specific in vitro assays and/or in vivo studies. To overcome this limitation, we have engineered a rSARS-CoV-2 expressing both fluorescent (mCherry) and luciferase (Nluc) genes and demonstrated its feasibility to study the biology of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro and/or in vivo, including the identification and characterization of neutralizing antibodies and/or antivirals. Using rodent models, we visualize SARS-CoV-2 infection and transmission through in vivo imaging systems (IVIS).