Home Cellular science RIT study reveals new information on how coronavirus attaches to human cells

RIT study reveals new information on how coronavirus attaches to human cells



Scientists at the Rochester Institute of Technology have discovered new information about how the coronavirus and several of its variants attach to human cells. A study recently published in the Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics reveals the findings.

The researchers used a code developed by Gregory Babbitt, associate professor at the Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences, to examine how coronaviruses use their spike proteins to attach to the host cells they attack.

“We used complex computer simulations in the field of molecular dynamics to compare the very first interaction that beta coronavirus proteins have with host cells,” said Patrick Rynkiewicz ’20 (bioinformatics and computational biology), ’21 MS (bioinformatics), who led the study. “It is the interaction between the viral spike protein – what is called the receptor binding domain – and the human host cell receptor known as ACE2.”

Researchers studied SARS-CoV-2 and the alpha, beta, and gamma variants, as well as several endemic strains of coronavirus found in humans and bats. The authors found that the coronavirus grabs human cells in two main places and that as it evolves into new variants, its grip on its human target tightens.

The virus has two points of contact with the human ACE2 receptor, one at the top and one at the bottom. What was really interesting about looking at molecular dynamics was that the early strains of the virus had a sliding interaction in one of the two key contact regions. He doesn’t quite understand. Then what happens over time as the variants came out is that they leveled off and made that interaction less slippery. And when we looked back in time at endemic human strains that have been around much longer – maybe at least 50 years for both -; they don’t really have that same interaction, they just evolved to bind very tightly to the other great region of interaction. “

Gregory Babbitt, Associate Professor, Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences

The study’s authors, who also include scientist Miranda Lynch from the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute and Professor André Hudson from RIT College of Science and Associate Professor Feng Cui, hope the findings can help guide the design of future drugs and help predict how future variants might evolve to infect humans.

Babbitt initially developed code to apply machine learning to the output of these complex simulations five years ago with the help of Professor Ernest Fokoue of the School of Mathematical Sciences and several biomedical engineering students. However, he didn’t think about using the code to study the coronavirus until Rynkiewicz pitched the idea during the early stages of the pandemic.

After graduating in the spring, Rynkiewicz got a job at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals as an associate bioinformatics developer where he works on code development, pipeline development and automation to help the company produce drugs safely. security. He still remains in touch with Babbitt and the two have spoken of collaborating on future articles. Currently, Babbitt is now using his code to study the delta variant of the virus.


Journal reference:

Rynkiewicz, P., et al. (2021) Functional binding dynamics relevant to the evolution of zoonotic fallout in endemic and emerging beta-coronavirus strains. Journal of Biomolecular Structure and Dynamics. doi.org/10.1080/07391102.2021.1953604.