Scientists get a fix on coronavirus’ deadly weapon

Coronavirus spike protein
These diagrams show the protein structure for the “spike” that’s used by the coronavirus known as COVID-19 to force its way into cells. The diagram at left shows the spike with a molecular key known as the RBD in the “down” position. The middle diagram shows the RBD-up conformation, and the diagram at right shows the spike on the SARS virus for comparison’s sake. (Wrapp, Wang et al. / UT-Austin / NIH via Science / AAAS)

Biochemists have created the first 3-D, atomic-scale map of key proteins in the killer coronavirus, opening up new possibilities for developing treatments and a vaccine.

Researchers at the University of Washington and its Institute for Protein Design are among the sleuths who’ll be taking advantage of the new clues.

The map shows the 3-D arrangement of proteins in the molecular “spike” that the virus known as COVID-19 uses to force its way into the cells that it infects. Once the virus gains entry, it delivers genetic code that takes control of the cells to spread the infection.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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