Breakthrough in Coronavirus Research  – Scientists created 3D atomic scale map of spike protein

Breakthrough in Coronavirus Research – Scientists created 3D atomic scale map of spike protein

Researchers from The University of Texas at
Austin and the National Institutes of Health have made a critical breakthrough toward developing
a vaccine for the 2019 novel coronavirus by creating the first 3D atomic scale map of
the part of the virus that attaches to and infects human cells. Mapping this part, called the spike protein,
is an essential step so researchers around the world can develop vaccines and antiviral
drugs to combat the virus. The paper was published in the journal Science. The scientific team is also working on a related
viable vaccine candidate stemming from the research. The researchers have spent many years studying
other coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. They had already developed methods for locking
coronavirus spike proteins into a shape that made them easier to analyze and could effectively
turn them into candidates for vaccines. This experience gave them an advantage over
other research teams studying the novel virus. Just two weeks after receiving the genome
sequence of the virus from Chinese researchers, the team had designed and produced samples
of their stabilized spike protein. It took about 12 more days to reconstruct
the 3D atomic scale map, called a molecular structure, of the spike protein and submit
a manuscript to the journal Science, which expedited its peer review process. The many steps involved in this process would
typically take months to accomplish. The molecule the team produced, and for which
they obtained a structure, represents only the extracellular portion of the spike protein,
but it is enough to elicit an immune response in people, and thus serve as a vaccine.



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