Expert Pitch

Russian biologist explains recent findings regarding coronavirus structure

MOSCOW (MIPT) — The atomic structure of the novel coronavirus envelope has explained why it is exceptionally contagious. Its structural features make it much easier for the Chinese coronavirus to bind to target receptors, compared with the previously known SARS pathogen.

Molecular biologists in the U.S. have obtained the first 3D photos of the proteins on the surface of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, which is the cause of the pneumonia outbreak in China. According to the authors of the paper published in the bioRxiv online preprint repository, new findings are helpful for creating the vaccine and drugs against the disease.

Pavel Volchkov, who heads the Genome Engineering Lab at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology is available for comment on the coronavirus.

Q: What are the benefits of knowing the structure of the 3D viral envelope?

A: The 3D structure is helpful for understanding the protein interactions inside the virus. In particular, the new study reports that the structure clarifies how the virus binds to its receptor, how it infiltrates the cell, how the viral RNA is delivered and concealed from the host.

In the case of an infection, the numerous viral RNAs are transcribed (expressed), leading to the synthesis of other RNAs — messenger RNAs — and therefore proteins. So we gain insights into the molecular mechanisms at play, that is, exactly how the infection occurs.

Q: How can this help to develop a vaccine?

A: By figuring out the structure of the viral particle, we understand which protein components — the so-called epitopes exposed on the surface — we can use to develop a vaccine. In doing that, we rely on those parts that experience the most effective immune response. Usually, a combination of epitopes is used, prioritizing those exposed on the surface and triggering the production of antibodies, which ultimately bind the viral particles. This means that a vaccine does not actually target the virus as a whole, or all of its genes, but certain protein subunits.

Q: Why is this pathogen so contagious?

A: The researchers have shown that while the SARS-CoV-2 structure is very similar to that of the previous coronavirus, the new one has a much higher affinity for a certain surface receptor. There is a stronger interaction between the virus and its target, making it more contagious. The pathogen effectively causes an infection with fewer viral particles.

The researchers have also concluded that the characteristic epitopes of the previous severe acute respiratory syndrome virus, for which antibodies are available, are not present in the new virus. As a result, a therapy based on antibodies against SARS is not applicable, which has already been confirmed on practice.

The only effective antibodies are those generated by the immune system of patients who recovered from a SARS-CoV-2 infection. Only they can be used in a serum based on plasma extracted from donor blood. These antibodies are mostly polyclonal and will target multiple epitope sites on the coronavirus surface.

Q: Is a pandemic possible?

A: The likelihood of a pandemic coronavirus scenario is low. For this to happen, the situation in China has to repeat in other countries. China has launched a large-scale campaign to prevent the epidemic. The outbreak epicenters have been closed down, and other nations’ health agencies are also stepping up epidemiologic protection measures. As of Feb. 20, Russia has temporarily banned Chinese citizens from entering the country.


Pavel Volchkov can be reached by contacting Varvara Bogomolova or Nicolas Posunko at the MIPT Press Office.

The MIPT website has more news about the research done at the Institute.

Filters close

Showing results

110 of 5636
Released: 13-May-2021 7:05 PM EDT
FLCCC Statement on the Irregular Actions of Public Health Agencies & the Disinformation Campaign Against Ivermectin
Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC Alliance)

FLCCC Alliance calls for whistleblower to step forward from within WHO, the FDA, the NIH, Merck, or Unitaid to counter this misrepresentation

Newswise: shutterstock_1724336896.jpg
Released: 13-May-2021 12:55 PM EDT
Kreuter receives $1.9 million in grants to increase vaccinations in St. Louis
Washington University in St. Louis

Matthew Kreuter, the Kahn Family Professor of Public Health at the Brown School, has received $1.9 million in grants to help increase COVID-19 vaccinations among Blacks in St. Louis City and County.

Released: 13-May-2021 11:35 AM EDT
COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines are Immunogenic in Pregnant and Lactating Women, Including Against Viral Variants
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

In a new study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center researchers evaluated the immunogenicity of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines in pregnant and lactating women who received either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. They found that both vaccines triggered immune responses in pregnant and lactating women.

Released: 13-May-2021 10:30 AM EDT
Pandemic stigma: Foreigners, doctors wrongly targeted for COVID-19 spread in India
Monash University

The Indian public blamed foreigners, minority groups and doctors for the rapid spread of COVID-19 across the country during the first wave, due to misinformation, rumour and long-held discriminatory beliefs, according to an international study led by Monash University.

Released: 13-May-2021 9:15 AM EDT
28 Community Programs Receive Grants Through Penn Medicine CAREs Program
Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Penn Medicine CAREs awarded grants to 28 projects, many of which aim to fill vast needs in the community created by the COVID-19 pandemic, while others seek to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Released: 13-May-2021 9:00 AM EDT
How to Win Over Vaccine Skeptics: Live Expert Panel for May 20, 3pm ET

How to Win Over Vaccine Skeptics: Live Expert Panel for May 20, 3pm ET

Released: 13-May-2021 8:00 AM EDT
Dental procedures during pandemic are no riskier than a drink of water
Ohio State University

A new study’s findings dispel the misconception that patients and providers are at high risk of catching COVID-19 at the dentist’s office.

Newswise:Video Embedded lung-damage-not-the-culprit-for-post-covid-exercise-limitations
Released: 13-May-2021 7:00 AM EDT
Lung Damage Not the Culprit for Post-COVID Exercise Limitations
American Physiological Society (APS)

A new study suggests the lungs may not be the main factor that reduce exercise ability in people recovering from severe COVID-19. Anemia and muscle dysfunction also play a role. The study is published ahead of print in the Journal of Applied Physiology. It was chosen as an APSselect article for May.

Showing results

110 of 5636