When COVID-19 spread around the globe this year, David Montefiori wondered how the deadly virus behind the pandemic might be changing as it passed from person to person. Montefiori is a virologist who has spent much of his career studying how chance mutations in HIV help it to evade the immune system. The same thing might happen with SARS-CoV-2, he thought.
In March, Montefiori, who directs an AIDS-vaccine research laboratory at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, contacted Bette Korber, an expert in HIV evolution and a long-time collaborator. Korber, a computational biologist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in Sante Fe, New Mexico, had already started scouring thousands of coronavirus genetic sequences for mutations that might have changed the virus’s properties as it made its way around the world.
Compared with HIV, SARS-CoV-2 is changing much more slowly as it spreads. But one mutation stood out to Korber. It was in the gene encoding the spike protein, which helps virus particles to penetrate cells. Korber saw the mutation appearing again and again in samples from people with COVID-19. At the 614th amino-acid position of the spike protein, the amino acid aspartate (D, in biochemical shorthand) was regularly being replaced by glycine (G) because of a copying fault that altered a single nucleotide in the virus’s 29,903-letter RNA code. Virologists were calling it the D614G mutation.
In April, Korber, Montefiori and others warned in a preprint posted to the bioRxiv server that “D614G is increasing in frequency at an alarming rate”1. It had rapidly become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 lineage in Europe and had then taken hold in the United States, Canada and Australia. D614G represented a “more transmissible form of SARS-CoV-2”, the paper declared, one that had emerged as a product of natural selection.
Image Credit: Closed’ and ‘open’ conformations of the spike protein on SARS-CoV-2, which binds to receptors on human cells. A common mutation (circled) seems to make the protein favour open conformations, which might mean the virus can enter cells more easily.
Structural data from K. Shen & J. Luban
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, researchers are working overtime to develop vaccines and therapies to thwart SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the disease Many efforts focus on the coronavirus spike protein, which binds the [...]
A research team in Hungary pinched the coronavirus with a fine needle to measure how much force it could take before popping like a balloon. It did not. The native virion of Sars-CoV-2 – a [...]
Headaches, confusion and delirium experienced by some Covid-19 patients could be the result of the coronavirus directly invading the brain, according to a study published Wednesday. The research is still preliminary – but offers several [...]
By Boris M | Published in Coronavirus During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a lot of information about the virus and its effects on mental health. That’s because coronavirus and the social, financial and psychological [...]
A serious illness suffered by an Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial participant was most likely “life-threatening”, a bioethics researcher says. But that doesn’t mean the clinical trials will be scrapped. AstraZeneca and Oxford University [...]
Analysis of seven trials finds dexamethasone and hydrocortisone should be given in severe cases. Studies around the world have confirmed that steroids can save lives in the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to new recommendations from [...]
Experts say strong evidence of efficacy needed to avoid approval of inferior vaccines. The rush to immunise populations against Covid-19 could lead to the rollout of a vaccine that is not very effective and [...]
The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news cycle for the better part of 2020. As guidelines are continually updated to reflect changes in our understanding of how the virus spreads, it is critical people [...]
Scientists in Hong Kong have reported the first confirmed case of reinfection with the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, reportedly backed up by genetic sequences of the two episodes of the 33-year-old man’s infections in March and [...]
Could uncomfortable nasal swabs be swapped for a contactless two-second breathalyzer puff to check for Covid-19 infection? Prof. Hossam Haick thinks so. Haick, a professor of chemical engineering and nanotechnology at the Technion – [...]
The relationship between antibodies for the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and immunity, vaccine efficacy, and spread of COVID-19 has received significant attention. Dr. Seheult is back to illustrate why T cells have received less [...]
Images Description Three individuals were admitted to the hospital (ages 46–56; to men and one woman) with a multiday history of symptoms associated with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and underwent [...]
Study of nose and throat reveals why people with COVID-19 may lose their sense of smell Researchers studying tissue removed from patients' noses during surgery believe they may have discovered the reason why so [...]