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Crop Biotech Update

Researchers Discover Vulnerability in SARS-CoV-2

August 19, 2020
Computer model showing polybasic cleavage sites on the novel coronavirus' spike protein. Photo Source: Northwestern University

Researchers from Northwestern University have identified a new vulnerability in the SARS-CoV-2's spike protein, illuminating a relatively simple, potential treatment pathway. The spike protein contains the virus' binding site which adheres to host cells and enables the virus to enter and infect the body. The researchers discovered a site on SARS-CoV-2 that affects binding to human host cells.

Using nanometer-level simulations, the researchers discovered a positively charged site, known as the polybasic cleavage site, located 10 nanometers from the actual binding site on the spike protein. The positively charged site allows strong bonding between the virus protein and the negatively charged human-cell receptors. The researchers then designed a negatively charged molecule to bind to the positively charged cleavage site. Blocking this site inhibits the virus from bonding to the host cell.

Made up of amino acids, the novel coronavirus's polybasic cleavage sites have remained elusive since the COVID-19 outbreak began. Previous research indicates that these mysterious sites are essential for virulence and transmission. Northwestern's Monica Olvera de la Cruz's and Baofu Qiao's discovery of the location of the polybasic cleavage provided unexpected insight.

For more details, read the article in Northwestern Now.

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