This is the first time a team of researchers has taken X-rays of a critical enzyme in the COVID-19 virus that does its job. This discovery could improve new treatments for this disease.
Vaccines against the new type of coronavirus give hope that the pandemic can be stopped. But the infection rate is still high. For those infected with COVID-19, finding effective treatments remains important.
Scientists studying the atomic structure of SARS-CoV-2 recently made a landmark discovery.
“Understanding enzymes goes hand in hand with understanding their atomic structures — the higher the resolution, the better. We wanted the best possible data, ”said Natalie Strinadka of the University of British Columbia (UBC).
Using a powerful X-ray beam to study the crystallized form of SARS-CoV-2 proteins, the UBC team observed for the first time the virus’s main protease, an important enzyme. It allows the virus to break down large proteins called polyproteins into smaller functional units. This process is necessary for the virus to replicate and infect other human cells.
The breakthrough was made possible by the Advanced Photon Source (APS) of the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. APS produces X-rays that are about a billion times brighter than those used by doctors and dentists. This allows researchers to study in detail the structure of the coronavirus protease at the atomic level.
The newly discovered information is of particular interest to scientists around the world seeking to develop antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19. If the main protease is inhibited by a small molecule drug, the polyproteins will not be separated into functional parts, effectively blocking viral replication and subsequent transmission.