US scientists have created the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells. It is a critical step toward developing vaccine and treatments.
The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first studied the genetic code of the virus made publicly available by Chinese researchers, and used it to develop a stabilized sample of a key part called the spike protein.
They then imaged the spike protein using cutting-edge technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, publishing their findings in the journal Science.Their engineered spike protein is itself being tested as a potential vaccine by the NIH.
The team is sending the map of its molecular structure out to collaborators around the world so they can improve it by making it provoke a greater immune response.
The model can also help scientists develop new proteins to bind to different parts of the spike and prevent it from functioning, to treat those already infected. These are known as antivirals.