Study reveals trick coronavirus uses to evade immune system, which may help upgrade vaccines against new variants

The novel coronavirus uses a mechanism similar to car windshield wipers in order to defend itself against the human immune system, a new study says. The authors believe their model could help reinforce existing vaccines.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, is surrounded by extended spike proteins – the primary weapon it uses to ‘pierce’ and infect human cells. Previous research produced only static models of such proteins, which failed to capture their flexibility and movement.

A team of scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Frankfurt, Germany created a dynamic model that show how the virus’s spikes are coated in protective glycans – chains of sugar molecules acting as a ‘shield’ that helps to evade the human immune system. 

The glycans cover almost the entire spike surface by moving back and forth “similar to car windshield wipers,” the Science Daily news website reported, citing a paper published in the PLOS Computational Biology journal.

One of the study’s authors, Mateusz Sikora, said the model would help combat emerging new variants of the coronavirus because mutations are concentrated in the spike protein. “Our approach can support the design of vaccines and therapeutic antibodies, especially when established methods struggle,” he said.

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