Berlin – An international research team led by structural biologist Andrea Thorn has been trying since the beginning of the pandemic to decipher individual protein components of Sars-CoV-2 as precisely as possible – among other things, so that drug developers around the world can search for remedies. But there is still a lot that remains to be clarified.
Berlin newspaper:Frau Thorn, wWhy is it so important to structurally examine the coronavirus?
Andrea Thorn: The coronavirus is made up of molecules. Understanding their structure exactly and having models of these molecules is necessary in order to find out how Sars-CoV-2 works in the first place: If, for example, the virus takes over a human cell and causes it to produce more viruses, then every single step has been taken made from a protein molecule. And disabling these protein molecules therefore means stopping the infection. But you can only do that if you know it very well: you have to understand the lock in order to be able to build a key. We are improving the molecular models of the coronavirus and making them publicly available online so that drug developers can specifically search for active ingredients that match the proteins and block them, for researchers at universities and also in the pharmaceutical industry.
You head the “Coronavirus Structural Task Force”, an international network of experts in the field of structural biology. How did it come about?
In February 2020 I looked at molecular models of the Sars coronavirus, which had already triggered a pandemic in 2002 and is very similar to the new coronavirus, and found out that more biological knowledge can be extracted from the structures with today’s methods. With this knowledge, I started a month later, together with my work group and international colleagues, to systematically examine the structures from Sars and the new coronavirus. From then on we have grown steadily. Today we’re a pretty diverse group with 27 team members in nine time zones. That was quite unusual for a research project: no professor at the top, at the beginning without research funding – we are now funded by the Federal Ministry of Research – and all results go online immediately. But we were able to use our knowledge to fight the pandemic – and that was the reason we joined forces.
So the pharmaceutical companies don’t need approval from the task force?
No. We want drug developers from the Philippines to Brazil or India, all over the world, to have access to our data.
What does Sars-CoV-2 look like in simple terms?
The coronavirus is not completely round. It’s like a soap bubble in constant motion – wobbly, if you will. The outer layer is thin, soft and made up of fatty acids that are chemically similar to soap. Because of this, soap can completely dissolve the shell of the virus – provided that the hands are washed long enough. The outer layer is covered by so-called spines, which allow the virus to penetrate into lung cells, for example. But what you call a virus – that is actually just the form of transport, the “virion”. Inside, it carries genetic material for a total of 28 protein molecules, most of which are first built in the host cell in order to transform it into a virus production facility.
All this is difficult to imagine for laypeople.
Many people still believe that viruses cannot be made visible. They may even fail to realize that the colored images shown in the media are images of the virus. The virus and its danger are not visible. The people do not see the many dead, they do not see the completely overloaded intensive care units because there is a ban on visits. This is also one of the reasons why we also made and printed a 3D model of the virus so that we can make the danger a bit more tangible.
How do you decipher the molecular structures?
The entire virus is not measured, but individual molecules. Structural biologists are looking for one of the 28 different proteins that make up Sars-CoV-2, for example the spikes on the surface of the virus. The molecule is not dangerous on its own, which makes work a lot easier. Genetically modified bacteria produce many copies of this molecule. Then there are two options: Either we take the thinly applied sample, cool it down to very low temperatures and put it under an electron microscope. A so-called transmission image is created, a negative image of the virus protein. From these individual snapshots of the molecule you can make a three-dimensional picture and use it to build a model of the molecule.
The other option is to crystallize the egg white. The crystals are a tenth of a millimeter in size and consist of thousands of identical protein molecules. This crystal is then measured using X-rays at a so-called synchrotron, a particle accelerator, such as Bessy II in Berlin. These data also make it possible to build a three-dimensional model of the molecule from which the crystal was made.
What role does the task force take on in these research steps?
We review and improve the models that were generated with the measurement data. My team members sit in front of a 3D monitor wearing special glasses and look at every single atom. Sometimes we build the models from scratch. Of course, you don’t just have to orientate yourself on the measurement data, but also position the individual atoms in a chemically sensible way, at the correct distance from one another: It’s a bit like how computers play.
How long do the individual steps take?
The multiplication in the bacterium can take one to 36 months with the purification until it works. The egg whites crystallize in one to 24 months. The measurement in the synchrotron takes about three minutes. The data acquisition and the assembling of the structures with the special glasses take a week to four months.
That means your team is responsible for the 3D modeling of the structures?
I agree. With 10,000 or more atoms per molecule, mistakes can easily happen – especially under the pressure of a global pandemic. These mistakes can doom the development of a drug from the outset. That is why we have to find and fix the errors beforehand. This is also very important for the biological questions about the virus. We are not the pioneers who will measure the structures, nor are we the ones who will find the medicine. We can enable and facilitate it and ensure that everything that is possible is really extracted from the experimental data.
How big are the gaps in knowledge about Sars-CoV-2 today?
A lot has been discovered in the past year. Researchers around the world have worked together – so do we! But of the 28 molecules of the virus, only 17 have so far been successfully measured. And even about these 17 we know we don’t know enough. Its a lot to do.
Is there anything that amazed you in the course of your corona research?
At Sars, people got very sick very quickly and went to the hospital soon after their infection. Once they were hospitalized, they could no longer infect anyone – that is, the outbreak could be more easily contained. With the novel coronavirus, around 15 percent of people develop no or few symptoms, but are still contagious. So the coronavirus is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t make you sick that badly. That sounds paradoxical, but of course it means that many more people can become infected and, in the end, there are many more deaths.
What do you know about the molecular details of virus mutants, new virus variants?
So far there are not many structures – the determination takes a few weeks or months – but these structures can be simulated very easily on the computer, as only a few of the thousand atoms in the molecule change.
What would have happened if scientists hadn’t stopped researching the virus after the Sars pandemic from 2002 to 2004?
The studies never stopped entirely. There were researchers like the Lübeck biochemist Rolf Hilgenfeld, who did corona research for many years in a quiet little room – with one and a half positions and small budgets. We owe the knowledge at the beginning of the corona pandemic to them. But yes, after the Sars pandemic, research declined significantly and was no longer funded as much. With Sars-CoV-2 it becomes clearer than ever: It is worthwhile to invest in research projects in the long term, and indeed for longer than one legislative period. If Sars research had been carried out continuously, we would have had a lot more knowledge about coronaviruses at the beginning of the pandemic. That would have been a huge benefit and I hope we are better prepared for the next pandemic.
NATO defense ministers are conducting a crucial brainstorming session ahead of the approval of a new strategic vision for the alliance, due in March at the Brussels summit. One of the main topics of the meeting, in which the new US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is taking part for the first time, is the model of containing Russia. It is expected that in the new strategy, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, it will be named not a partner, but “the main military threat.” However, by setting up the allies for a long-term confrontation with Moscow, the administration of President Joe Biden, defining the alliance’s agenda, signals its readiness for selective interaction with the Russian Federation in areas of mutual interest.
The meeting of NATO defense ministers in connection with the pandemic, which opened on Wednesday, is being held in the format of a videoconference, which will not allow its participants to retire on the sidelines or personally meet the new head of the Pentagon, Lloyd Austin.
Three key issues were the main topics. This is the future of NATO’s multinational contingent in Afghanistan, which was supposed to leave the country by May 1 (see Kommersant, February 17), a new strategy for the development of the alliance, as well as the distribution of military spending among NATO members and the expansion of their purchases of new weapons.
If the issue of Afghanistan requires a solution in the coming weeks and months, then containment of Russia is a long-term program, calculated at least until 2030.
At the end of the first day of the meeting, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made it clear that the alliance’s strategy adopted at the Lisbon summit in November 2010, in which Russia was named a strategic partner of NATO, was morally outdated. “The time has come to renew the concept. In principle, it serves our needs well, but the situation has changed since then, “he said, noting that the 2010 document does not cover” a change in the balance of power, “” the rise of China, “or climate issues. “Finally, in 2010 we talked about a strategic partnership with Russia. Since then, the situation has changed a lot, ”added Mr. Stoltenberg, referring to the“ aggressive actions ”of Moscow and the“ annexation of Crimea ”in this regard. In general, according to the secretary general of the alliance, Russia and China are countries that undermine international order and do not share the values that unite all NATO countries.
Proposals designed to help make the alliance “fit for the future” have been consolidated into the NATO 2030 program. It is expected to be adopted in March at the Brussels summit. As practical steps towards the implementation of the new strategy, Brussels calls for an increase in allocations for military activity, including on the eastern flank, to conduct an “annual assessment of the vulnerability of NATO’s infrastructure” and to “maintain the technological superiority” of the alliance. The solution of the latter task involves large-scale investments in the creation of new types of weapons, which should increase the interoperability of the armed forces of the alliance members and intensify their cooperation with the United States in the innovation field.
In turn, the stake on increased activity in the eastern direction provides for the deployment of the alliance’s combat groups there, including naval forces, air patrols and conducting exercises.
In general, all these actions should demonstrate the adherence of the members of the alliance to the fifth article of the Washington Treaty, which defines the principle of collective defense.
The statements of the new leadership of the US Department of Defense also confirmed that the means of consolidation of the alliance members will be the “Russian threat”. “It is clear that Russia poses a threat to all NATO allies, including the United States. Russia undermines transparency and predictability. She uses military force to achieve her goals. It supports certain groups, wreaks havoc and doubt, undermining the rules-based international order, “an unnamed Pentagon spokesman told reporters in Washington, quoted by Interfax. Another US Department of Defense spokesman accused Russia of seeking to “undermine security and stability around the world with its authoritarian approach.” “We see this in her cooperation with China, in a partnership of convenience,” the American military said.
However, declaring its determination to “hold Russia accountable,” President Biden’s administration makes it clear: Washington is ready for selective interaction with Moscow, and other members of the alliance should be ready for such a model of relations.
On the eve of the NATO meeting, an unnamed Pentagon official said: “We will work with Russia to advance our own interests.”
“The current meeting within NATO is the bridegroom of Lloyd Austin and his readiness to conduct a dialogue with allies without humiliation in the spirit of (the former president.— “B”) Donald Trump. At the same time, the new head of the Pentagon will have to convey to the allies the idea that the new US administration has already concluded that it is impossible to prevent a Russian-Chinese rapprochement by luring either Russia or China over to its side. Washington is ready to oppose the alliance of Moscow and Beijing with a system of alliances between the United States and Western countries, built primarily on an ideological basis, “Vladimir Batyuk, chief researcher at the Institute of the USA and Canada, explains to Kommersant.
According to the expert, in order to preserve this ideological unity, the new US administration, unlike the Trump administration, will be ready to turn a blind eye to the reluctance of the European allies to significantly increase their contribution to joint defense. “Apparently, the Biden administration will not punish Europeans for insufficient military spending. So, she has already announced the cancellation of President Trump’s decision of July 29, 2020 on the withdrawal of 11.9 thousand soldiers and officers from Germany as punishment for Germany for Nord Stream 2 and the too small German defense budget, which clearly falls short of 2 % Of GDP ”, – sums up the expert.
“The coming to power of President Biden is perceived in the US and the EU as an opportunity to breathe new life into transatlantic relations. Cooperation within NATO is at the core of this relationship, so both Europeans and Americans are interested in highlighting the vitality of the alliance. For Europeans, this is an indicator of the normalization of relations with the United States and the return of the usual rules of the game. This is important for the United States, since the Biden administration is betting on strengthening the system of alliances to contain not only Russia, but primarily China, ”continues Vasily Kashin, Deputy Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics. “The easiest way to demonstrate solidarity to both sides is at the expense of Russia, given that Russian-American relations have already been destroyed, and Russian-European relations are on the brink of rupture,” notes Mr. Kashin.
In turn, Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, draws attention to the fact that breathing new life into the activities of the alliance will not be easy. “It’s not about the change of the US administration. The fundamental problem for NATO is that the days of the hard-line military-political alliances of the Cold War are receding into the past. They are being replaced by flexible ad hoc ad hoc alliances to solve certain specific problems, ”continues Mr. Kortunov. “However, even with all its sluggishness in the near future, NATO will remain Russia’s main rival. Considering that cooperation is no longer possible, the real task may be to resume a professional dialogue within the stalled Russia-NATO council, in order to at least put this rivalry within a certain framework that does not allow the transition to full-scale confrontation, ”the expert sums up.
The Covid-19 crisis has caused a major disruption in terms of public health and in economic and social terms. We haven’t met him in the last 100 years. Also for its synchronous impact worldwide. But at the same time we have had an antidote that has certainly mitigated the impact of this crisis: connectivity.
It is too early to draw conclusions as to what we will have learned and what we will have left when we overcome this crisis. What is certainly already a fact is the acceleration of the digitization of many processes in our daily lives as well.
What we also know for sure is that we will not successfully overcome this challenge if we do not make a firm commitment to overcoming one of the great burdens of our economy: lower productivity relative to our most direct competitors.
Competitiveness cannot always be played out in the territory of wage costs – traditionally lower in our country. We must bet on improving productivity as the determining factor in the qualitative leap that the Spanish economy must make.
We must therefore insist on the vector of the dimension of our companies. There is a clear correlation between size and productivity. And we must bet even more decisively on the vector of the digital transition of the economy and society.
With the help of digitalization, higher productivity emerges; an improvement in the efficiency of all processes –with those derived in terms of sustainability and climate change–; new business models emerge that will demand new professional profiles and offer new opportunities; Industry 4.0 supported by the emergence of the 5G ecosystem will definitely emerge.
With 5G we are facing a disruption that allows us to enter the digital age for good. It will give rise to new economic models, businesses and services, both for companies and citizens, and will create professions that we do not even imagine today. In health, education, mobility, public services, it will overcome physical and geographical limitations.
To a large extent 5G is intended for the industry. Following in the footsteps of countries such as Germany, France and the Netherlands, we must promote the development of 5G private networks in industrial environments. That allow car plants, chemical production poles, large industrial estates, have the necessary benefits to implement applications and processes whose deployment will only be possible on the basis of an infrastructure designed for 5G.
In this process of reimagination we must not escape that the key will be complicity and cooperative work between the public and private sectors. One of the catalysts we must know how to take advantage of is the funds of the Next Generation EU, with programs that pivot on the axes of the digital and ecological transition, ensuring an inclusive connectivity that connects territories and people.
It is not the private or the public, but with each other. As a country, we have a thick network of universities, technology and innovation centers, which will not move forward unless it is in the hands of companies that give concrete impetus to the entrepreneurial impulse that is being developed.
We are faced with the urgency of reimagining the growth model: managing the transition to a low-carbon economy; supporting more knowledge-intensive and therefore more value-added sectors; and investing in the digital infrastructures needed to ensure an attractive environment for investment and innovation, deploying in an intertwined territorial structure and anchoring activity and wealth throughout the country.
Bad news for those looking to buy a more economical version of the model as soon as possible.
Today fresh details about the new generation of Kruzak have leaked to the Web. According to BestCarWeb, the Toyota Land Cruiser 300 will become a hybrid only in two years, that is, after the conventional versions with internal combustion engines enter the market. The plans of the Japanese also include the release of new items in a “cool” version for off-road and “charged” modification GR Sports.
So, the Toyota Land Cruiser 300, according to the latest rumors, will debut on August 1 in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Toyota BJ model, the progenitor of the Kruzak. The new Japanese SUV at the start will be offered with a 3.5-liter V6 petrol turbo engine and a 3.3-liter diesel engine.
Earlier it was reported that the “Three hundredth” will also receive a hybrid version. And yes, he will, but, as it turned out, already in 2023. The fact is that the frame SUV built on the TNGA architecture will use a single-engine hybrid system that differs from Toyota’s standard THS.
This is a completely new mechanism that mates the 10-speed automatic transmission to the engine, and is ideal for a heavy Land Cruiser. Precisely because the development and testing of the new system will take time, the hybrid “Three hundredth” will be released only in two years.
It turned out to be a small bummer for those who were expecting an economical and “cleaner” Toyota Land Cruiser 300 with the hope of buying it at the start of world sales. The off-road world tour will kick off in the Japanese home market, with applications starting in March.
Facelift for the two oldest Tesla models. The Californian electric manufacturer has updated its Model S and X, which will reach the European market during the month of September and will have up to 840 kilometers of autonomy “Zero emissions”, depending on the versions. In Spain, the new Model S will be available from 89,990 euros, while the Model X will start at 99,990 euros. Both will arrive from September.
The interior of your vehicles will be “brand new” and will feature up to three displays. The central monitor will be for on-board entertainment functions, the second screen in front of the driver will show the driving information, while the rear passengers will have their own screen.
For its part, the Model S will have a glass roof, which will give occupants the opportunity to see the sky “without obstacles”, although it has an ultraviolet filter to block the entry of light and heat into the cabin. Also, the Model X will have a panoramic windshield.
Among other specifications, the cars will feature four-wheel drive, allowing front and rear engines to be used to improve performance and traction in all conditions.
Three versions of autonomy
Regarding its autonomy, the Model S will be available in three versions that, at a minimum, have up to 628 kilometers of travel on a single charge. The top of the range exceeds 840 kilometers of “zero emissions” autonomy. Also, Tesla will offer the Model X with 547 or 580 kilometers of electric range.
Thanks to its electric motors, the Model S will be marketed with more than 1,100 horses of power in its top-of-the-range version, while the Model X reaches 1,020 horses.
Models include Tesla’s new autopilot that allows the car to turn, accelerate and brake by detecting other vehicles and pedestrians that may be on the road.