Zooming in for a clearer picture of Covid-19

A 3D model of the coronavirus particle's cross-section and exterior (above) before it enters the human cell, and a graphic of an enzyme in the virus formed by two protease molecules.
A 3D model of the coronavirus particle's cross-section and exterior (above) before it enters the human cell, and a graphic of an enzyme in the virus formed by two protease molecules. PHOTOS: FRAUNHOFER SINGAPORE, LEE KONG CHIAN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, NTU
A 3D model of the coronavirus particle’s cross-section and exterior before it enters the human cell, and a graphic of an enzyme in the virus formed by two protease molecules (above).
A 3D model of the coronavirus particle’s cross-section and exterior before it enters the human cell, and a graphic of an enzyme in the virus formed by two protease molecules (above).PHOTOS: FRAUNHOFER SINGAPORE, LEE KONG CHIAN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, NTU

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have been using visualisation software to better understand the molecular structure of the Sars-Cov-2 virus - which causes Covid-19 - along with its key proteins and enzymes.

This can help scientists devise solutions to kill the virus and prevent it from propagating.

A virtual 3D model developed by Fraunhofer Singapore, a joint research institute between NTU and German software company Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, allows the cross-section and exterior of the Sars-Cov-2 virus particle before it enters the human cell to be seen.

The virus particle is about 90 nanometres long (one nanometre is one-billionth of a metre), and in its interior is the virus' RNA, its genetic material, which must enter a human cell for the virus to replicate.

Once it enters the human cell, the virus particle is surrounded by a lipid membrane derived from the host cell, in which four virus membrane proteins are inserted. These proteins play different roles at different stages of the virus' life cycle as it replicates and infects other cells in the body.

Other kinds of software can also help scientists develop drugs to inhibit the Sars-CoV-2 virus.

Using molecular graphic software, Associate Professor Luo Dahai of NTU's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine identified the virus' main protease, which is essential for the life cycle of the virus.

Two individual protease molecules join together to form an enzyme.

When the virus hijacks a host cell, it produces a single polyprotein, which the enzyme cuts into individual functional proteins to help the virus replicate.

 

Understanding the atomic structure of the enzyme allows for possible solutions to be devised to block the function of the protease, eventually killing the virus.

  • 90

    Size of the Sars-Cov-2 virus particle in nanometres. One nanometre is one-billionth of a metre.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2020, with the headline 'Zooming in for a clearer picture of Covid-19'. Print Edition | Subscribe