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Researchers capture first-ever image of new COVID-19 mutant

In a major achievement, researchers at the University of British Columbia succeeded to capture the first-ever image of a mutation on a COVID-19 variant.

According to the details, the researchers at the university are the first to publish the structural images of a mutation in the B.1.1.7 variant of the SARS-CoV-2, which is also an indication that the existing vaccines against the virus are likely to remain effective in preventing mild and severe cases caused by the variant.

In a statement from the University of British Colombia, Dr Sriram Subramaniam, professor in UBC faculty of medicine’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology, said since the SARS-CoV-2 virus is 1,00,000 times smaller than the size of a pinhead, they had to use a cryo-electron microscope to visualise the detailed shape of the virus and proteins on its surface.

Placement of mutation allows it to enter human cells easily 

The team found that image that shows localized placement of the mutation allows it to enter human cells more easily. The team’s analysis, recently published in PLOS Biology, reveals that, once inside, the mutation can still be sidelined by antibodies from current vaccines.

“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,” the report quoted researchers.

Can be neutralised by antibodies

Subramaniam said, “Our analysis revealed that even though the N501Y mutant can bind and enter our cells more readily, it can still be neutralised by antibodies that block the entry of the unmutated version of the virus into cells.”

“It’s important to understand the different molecular structures of these emerging variants to determine whether they’ll respond to existing treatments and vaccines and ultimately find ways to control their spread more effectively,” Subramaniam said.

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