The coronavirus appears to be altering its own genetic code. “This is a fundamental advance in our understanding of the virus,” commented one of the authors of this study.

How does the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infect our cells to cause Covid-19 disease? This question, to which we have only a partial answer today, is essential: it is by understanding the infection process that we can most effectively block it. One of the main lines of research is, for example, the so-called “Spike” protein (in the form of a point), which allows the coronavirus to attach itself.

A team of researchers from the University of Texas published in Nature, this July 24, 2020, a research paper where they expose their advances on how SARS-CoV-2 infects our body. They succeeded in fully identifying and modeling an enzyme produced by the coronavirus, the non-structural protein 16 or nsp16. The pathogen uses this enzyme to modify the coronavirus messenger RNA (a transient copy of genetic information). What does this action of nsp16 imply?

Illustration of the coronavirus. // Source: Numerama / Claire Braikeh

This enzyme can be targeted

By modifying its messenger RNA with the nsp16 enzyme, the coronavirus is able to trick the cells that it attaches, in order to infect our body. ” It’s a camouflage ”, Illustrates in a statement the director of the study Yogesh Gupta. ” Due to these modifications, which deceive the cell, the resulting viral messenger RNA is then considered to be part of the cell’s own code and not as a foreign element. »

Clearly, when it does this, the coronavirus masquerades as a normal part of our body. The immune system then has no reason to be triggered. The infection is not blocked, since it is simply not recognized as a threat. By computer analogy, it is a kind of Trojan horse, the virus masquerading as a piece of data in order to efficiently penetrate and deploy the system.

Such a discovery comes with good news. By discovering and modeling in 3D the enzyme nsp16, Yogesh Gupta also identified a “pocket” through which it seems quite possible to target nsp16 in order to block it, and thus to prevent or slow down the replication of SARS-CoV -2. ” It is a fundamental advance in our understanding of the virus Commented study co-author Robert Hromas.

Photo credit of the one: Pixabay

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