Covid19 – Canadian experts release first ever images of B.1.1.7
The first images of a mutation on a COVID-19 variant of concern have been captured by University of British Columbia researchers, who say the photos offer some reassurance about how the virus strain may react to current vaccines.
UBC says the researchers are the first to publish structural images of the mutation found on one portion of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
The spike protein is the part of the virus that opens the door to infection, while the mutation is the change believed partly responsible for the rapid spread of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom.
The coronavirus is 100,000 times smaller than a pinhead and is undetectable using a regular microscope. To “visualise the detailed shapes of viruses and proteins”, the research team used cryo-electron microscopes called cryo-EM that can be up to 12 feet high, and the imaging technology uses beams of electrons to picture the samples at liquid nitrogen temperatures.
The images we captured provide the first structural glimpse of the N501Y mutant and show that the changes resulting from the mutation are localised. In fact, the N501Y mutation is the only mutation in the B.1.1.7 variant that is located on the portion of the spike protein that binds to the human ACE2 receptor, which is the enzyme on the surface of our cells that serves as the entry gate for Sars-CoV-2.