US scientists on February 19 announced that they built the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the coronavirus that attaches to and infects cells. According to reports, the creation of the map is a crucial step towards developing vaccines and necessary treatments to curb the virus.
According to reports, scientists from the University of Texas and the National Institute of Health first analysed the genetic code of the coronavirus after it was made publicly available by Chinese researchers. The team went on to create a viable sample of a major part called the spike protein. The scientists went on to image the spike protein using the latest technology called cryogenic electron microscopy. The study was published in the Journal Science.
The lead researcher of the study published in Journal Science, Jason McLellan said that the spike protein was the antigen (molecules capable of stimulating an immune response) that they wanted to introduce into human beings to make antibodies against the virus. McLellan further added that he and his team had already studied the likes of SARS and MERS, which helped them create ways to keep the spike protein stable.
The clinically engineered spike protein is being tested as a potential vaccine by the National Institute of Health. According to a study published in the journal, the research team is sending the atomic scale map to scientists in different parts of the world. The model can also help scientists create a new type of proteins to hold different parts of the spike protein and restrict it from functioning, to treat those already diagnosed with the coronavirus. These will be called Antivirals.
A virologist, Benjamin Neuman said that this is one of the cleat structures of one of the most crucial coronavirus proteins, a breakthrough in understanding how the COVID-19 found and entered cells. He further added that the structure showcased that even though the spike was made up of three identical proteins, one protein stood out, giving the virus a longer reach.
Cryogenic electron microscopy is an electron microscopy technique used on samples cooled to cryogenic temperatures and embedded in an environment of vitreous water. In the above-mentioned study, the Cryogenic electron microscopy used beams of electrons to study the atomic structures of biomolecules that were frozen to preserve them.