Sugar-like molecules on the surface of the novel coronavirus create a “kind of protective coat” that hides it from the host’s neutralising antibodies, according to a study which may help develop new vaccines and therapeutics against COVID-19.
Using ultra-high resolution microscopy techniques, researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics in Germany, assessed the surface structure of the novel coronavirus and found that its entire spike protein (S), which enables it to enter host cells, is covered with chains of sugar-like molecules called glycans.
The findings, published in the journal Science, noted that the globular portion of the spike protein, which contains the machinery needed for the virus to fuse with host cells, is connected to a flexible stalk.
“We show that the stalk domain of S contains three hinges, giving the head unexpected orientational freedom. We propose that the hinges allow S to scan the host cell surface, shielded from antibodies by an extensive glycan coat,” the scientists wrote in the study.