The researchers analyzed the performance of the small Spon protein on the surface of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. To do this, they used x-ray crystallography to create a three-dimensional model of what a pointed protein looks like and how it binds to human cells.
The author of the study, Fang Li, notes that such a model is not similar to the usual images of coronavirus that people usually see in the media, but this form allows them to visualize how small mutations in the protein create various folds and ridges, which then change the way the virus particle joins to receptors in human cells.
Researchers have found that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus strain has several mutations that form a particularly compact “crest” in the spike protein. This part of the virus is more compact than the SARS virus, and this may be one of the reasons this new strain infects humans so quickly.