The first series of pictures of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 have come
to light wherein the virus can be seen merging with the lung cells to
create more viruses.
Qiang Zhou and his team from Westlake University, China found how this
virus attaches to a respiratory receptor called angiotensin-converting
enzyme 2. Thomas Gallagher of Loyola College has expressed his
fascination at the surprising depth in the pictures- which show fusion
at the atomic level. This student of coronavirus spoke about how it was
quite stunning to get this level of information so quickly.
But Gallagher believes it to be important- for, if a vaccine is to be
made for this virus, it is important that researchers have complete
knowledge about the what’s and the why’s.
The very basic way through which a virus infects a human body is simply
by infiltrating human cells and operating the cell itself. This cell
then multiplies and converts adjoining cells. The Science journal
published a report on 19th February which showed how this virus had an
entryway into human cells. The molecular key involved was something
called a spike protein. A week later, Zhou spoke about how the spike
protein was effectively used by the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2.
This report was then effectively published on 4th March in the same
Liang Tao, a researcher not involved in the project but also from the
Westlake University, gave quite an interesting analogy to the entire
procedure. He called the body, a house with the new coronavirus being a
robber. In this case, the ACE 2 was simply the doorknob, and when the
S-Protein touched the doorknob, it was all over for the human body.
To get this information, Zhou had to use a cryo-electron microscopy,
which utilized frozen samples amongst other important tools to find out
the change in biological molecules. Interestingly, these researchers
found a deeply similar biological structure between the 2019-nCov and
the SARS virus that had broken out in 2003. But there were definitely
some differences- most importantly in the amino acids and their reaction
in both the SARS and the 2019-nCov. Gallagher mentioned that while the
differences might look minute to the naked eye, it created a huge
difference in how the virus clung on to the human body.
This clinginess is also important in the discovery of how fast and
effective would the transmission of disease be when the virus travels
from cell to cell. Also, Gallagher mentioned that this wasn’t the only
coronavirus- for there were several others that enter the body through
other means and cause respiratory problems which we think to be common
Gallagher believes that in order to make a drug effective towards
combating 2019-nCov, the medical field has to indulge in newer terrains.
For, the drugs available in the market simply prevent viral replication
in the host. If more effectiveness is desired, then researchers have to
look for drugs that would directly hit the entry point.
The spike protein could be another interesting place to start making a
better, improved drug. But Gallagher has a warning attached to it- any
drug made has to be safe for humans. And according to the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, it would take close to a year to
make an effective vaccine that would eradicate Coronavirus.