A global network of scientists has isolated functional units of the SARS-CoV-2 proteins, allowing researchers to characterize their structure, function, and interactions and establish protocols to quickly detect mutations and new variants.
The global group, by researchers of Goethe University Frankfurt and TU Darmstadt, has directions — protocols that will enable laboratories all over the world to work quickly and consistently on SARS-CoV-2 proteins and mutants.
When the Covid-19 virus mutates, it initially just means that its genetic blueprint has changed.
The mutation could result in an amino acid being exchanged at a specific site in a viral protein, for instance.
A three-dimensional picture of the viral protein is extremely useful for quickly assessing the impact of this transition.
"This is because it shows whether the switch in amino acid has consequences for the function of the protein - or for the interaction with a potential drug or antibody," researchers explained their findings, in a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.
Professor Harald Schwalbe of Goethe University's Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology is in charge of the network, which spans the globe.
The second milestone has already been reached: the creation of laboratory protocols for protein production. The virus contains RNA in addition to proteins, and the consortium made all essential RNA fragments of SARS-CoV-2 available last year.
It is now possible to manufacture and purify 23 of the nearly 30 proteins of SARS-CoV-2 fully or as relevant fragments "in the test tube," and in large quantities, thanks to the expertise of 129 colleagues.
Dr. Martin Hengesbach of Goethe University's Institute of Organic Chemistry and Chemical Biology said ; "Distributing this work from the beginning was one of our most important priorities. In addition to the protocols, we are also making the plasmids freely available."
"With our work, we are speeding up the global search for active agents. Scientific laboratories equipped for this work do not have to first spend several months establishing and optimising systems for the production and investigation of SARS-CoV-2 proteins but can now start their research work within two weeks thanks to our elaborated protocols," Dr. Andreas Schlundt of Goethe University's Institute for Molecular Biosciences summarised the situation.
Given the numerous mutations of SARS-CoV-2 to come, it is particularly important to have access to reliable, rapid and well-established methods for studying the virus in the laboratory. This will, for example, promote research on SARS-so-called CoV-2's helper proteins, which have remained understudied but play a role in the occurrence of mutations, the researchers said.
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