The new corona virus that is spreading the Covid-19 pandemic around the world is a concern for all of us.
Since it was first reported on December 31, 2020 until today, Sunday (5/4/2020), this virus has infected more than 1,200,000 people in 206 countries and two international cruise ships.
Meanwhile, when compared to SARS caused by the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) virus, WHO released in 2003 that this outbreak “only infected” 8,098 people in 26 countries.
Very much different than the SARS-CoV-2 virus which is causing the current Covid-19 pandemic.
So why did the newly discovered corona virus infect more humans or why did this virus spread so quickly?
According to the results of recent research studies, the protein contained in the SARS-CoV-2 corona virus has a “special area” or denser ridge. This makes it easier to stick to human cells than other types of corona viruses.
When the virus is easily attached to human cells, this allows the corona virus SARS-CoV-2 to have the ability to infect better and be able to spread faster.
Reported by Live Science, Saturday (4/4/2020), the new SARS-CoV-2 corona virus attaches to human cells through what are called spike proteins.
When a protein spike attaches or binds to human cell receptors – proteins on the cell surface that serve as the entrance to cells – the virus membrane will join human cells.
This allows the viral genome to enter human cells. All types of corona viruses, including those that cause SARS and MERS disease, attach to human cells through protein spikes.
However, each type of corona virus has a different spike protein structure.
In February, a group of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health mapped the molecular structure of protein specimens in the new SARS-CoV-2 corona virus.
And most recently, a group of other researchers from the University of Minnesota further explored the new corona virus protein spike and its attachment to human cell receptors using X-rays.
Their aim is to understand why the new corona virus spike protein is very good at infecting human cells compared to other corona viruses, especially the SARS-CoV virus.
Both SARS-CoV (the cause of the SARS outbreak in 2003) and SARS-CoV-2 (the corona virus that causes the current Covid-19 pandemic), bind to the same human receptor, known as ACE2.
According to a recent study by a team from the University of Minnesota found that genetic mutations making spike proteins in SARS-CoV-2 develop ridges or “special areas” of molecules that are denser than SARS-CoV.
The denser structure and the presence of some small differences allow SARS-CoV-2 to attach more strongly to human ACE2 receptors.
This in turn makes this virus can infect humans better and is able to spread faster than the corona virus that causes SARS.
“In general, by studying the structure of the most important proteins in viruses, we can design drugs and block their activities, such as disrupting their radar,” Fang Li, a professor in the Department of Animal and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Minnesota said in a statement.
By studying specifically this virus and how it attaches to human cells, the researchers also gained some insight into how the virus can jump from animals to humans.
They found that the corona virus in bats also binds to ACE2 receptors, but it’s bad.
Some mutations can increase the ability of bat viruses to attach to human receptors, allowing for jumps to humans, according to the statement.
The researchers also analyzed the structure of the spike protein in the pangolin, which could be a host between bats and humans, according to an earlier Live Science report.
They found that one of the corona viruses in the anteater had the potential to bind to human receptors. This supports the idea that pangolins are virus brokers.
“But the hypothesis needs to be verified experimentally,” wrote the expert in the study.