The vibrations of the coronavirus can tell us how infectious and deadly it is

The vibrations of the coronavirus can tell us how infectious and deadly it is

Coronavirus spike proteins change shape and vibrate to better adapt to receptors on cells and enter, but by studying the mechanics of the virus we may learn how to block them

(image: Markus Buehler and Yiwen Hu / MIT) The coronavirus does not it is exactly how it is represented. The spike proteins of the corona are constantly moving, so the static images we are used to are not realistic. Precisely these continuous vibrations of the viral proteins would help the pathogen to enter the cells and therefore could help us understand the characteristics of a certain strain, up to predicting how infectious or deadly it could be. To reiterate this in an article published on Matter is the researcher of the MIT of Boston Markus Buehler, the same one who a few months ago (as we told you here) ago had translated the vibrations of Sars-Cov-2 into music.

Forcing the lock

Continuing the work begun during the first wave of the pandemic, Buehler and his colleague Yiwen Hu analyzed the atomic structure of the coronavirus Sars-Cov-2 and that of its relatives Sars-Cov and Mers- Cov and their interactions with cells not from a biochemical point of view but from a mechanical one.

Through a series of simulations they have studied how corona proteins change shape and how they vibrate when they attach to Ace-2 receptors of the cell membrane as if to force them slightly. According to the researchers, in fact, the mechanism that coronaviruses use to infect cells may be somewhat facilitated by these vibrations. A strategy similar to the one we all use to open a lock with an imperfect key.

Predicting the behavior of the virus

A static key - says Buehler - either works or doesn't work. But spike proteins aren't static, quite the opposite. And the more they are able to change shape, to adapt, the more likely they are to open the lock.

Scientists have in fact discovered that the differences in the vibrational characteristics of the analyzed viruses correlate with the different infectivity and mortality rates calculated on the basis of international databases. In particular, the more the spikes vibrate the more the pathogen is infectious and less deadly.

If these data were confirmed, the mechanical analysis of the viral structure could become an important tool for predicting the behavior of a certain existing strain or that could be generated as a result of mutations (according to the analyzes of Buehler and Hu, for example, the G614 mutation of Sars-Cov-2 would be slightly more infectious and slightly less lethal than the original).

And maybe it could also help us to block it, suggesting the development of therapeutic molecules created ad hoc to stiffen the spikes or alter the oscillations in the opposite direction, so that it is more difficult to force the lock of the cells.

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