File image of medical staff at isolation ward where 3 patients were admitted for suspected coronavirus infection, in New Delhi | ANI
File image of medical staff at an isolation ward where three patients were admitted for suspected coronavirus infection in New Delhi | ANI
Text Size:

New Delhi: Scientists have created the first 3D atomic scale map of a part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells. This, they claim, could be a critical “breakthrough” towards developing a vaccine for the virus that has triggered a global health emergency.

The deadly virus has so far killed over 2,000 people in China.

There are currently no vaccines or treatment for the disease.

The researchers, led by associate professor at University of Texas in Austin, Jason McLellan, have mapped a part of the virus — called ‘spike protein’.

The team, which has been studying coronaviruses for many years, said this is an essential step in developing vaccines and antiviral drugs to combat the deadly infection. 

“As soon as we knew this was a coronavirus, we felt we had to jump at it, because we could be one of the first ones to get this structure,” McLellan said in a statement issued Wednesday night. 

“We knew exactly what mutations to put into this, because we’ve already shown these mutations work for a bunch of other coronaviruses,” he added.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.


3D atomic scale map
This is a 3D atomic scale map, or molecular structure, of the 2019-nCoV spike protein | Jason McLellan | University of Texas at Austin

Also read: Chinese firms are issuing ‘anti-coronavirus bonds’ — what they are and how they will help

How it works

Within two weeks of receiving the genome sequence of the virus from Chinese researchers, the team — also comprising PhD student Daniel Wrapp and research associate Nianshuang Wang — produced samples of their stabilised spike protein.

In another 12 days, they reconstructed the 3D atomic scale map, called a molecular structure, of the spike protein.

The manuscript of the study was submitted to the journal, Science, which expedited its peer review process that typically takes months to complete. The paper was published Wednesday.

The molecule for which the team has obtained a structure represents only the extracellular portion of the spike protein, but the scientists claim it is enough to elicit an immune response in people, and thus serve as a vaccine.

The team now plans to use their molecule as a “probe” to isolate naturally produced antibodies from patients who have been infected with the novel coronavirus and successfully recovered. 

In large enough quantities, these antibodies could help treat a coronavirus infection soon after exposure.

For example, the antibodies could protect soldiers or healthcare workers sent to an area with high infection rates on short notice for the immunity from a vaccine to take effect, researchers said. 

Also read: Alarmed over coronavirus, India to make list of viruses, bacteria to develop vaccines


Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

Share Your Views


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here