X-ray images of the critical enzyme SARS-CoV-2 taken for the first time

This is the first time that a team of researchers has recorded an X-ray of a critical enzyme in the COVID-19 virus doing its job. This discovery could improve new ways of treating this disease.

Vaccines against a 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 have recently made a significant 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 from the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Using a powerful X-ray to study the crystallized form of the SARS-CoV-2 protein, the UBC team first spotted the virus’s major 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 American National Energy Laboratory Argonne. 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 who want to develop antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19. If the major protease is inhibited by a small-molecule drug, the polyproteins will not break down into functional parts, effectively blocking virus replication and subsequent transmission.