Scientists use AI to model the atomic structure of COVID-19

A team of computer scientists led by the University of Washington Bothell (UWB), USA, is using Artificial Intelligence to model the atomic structure of COVID-19.

The new software, DeepTracer, uses deep learning tools to analyse three-dimensional images of a virus protein molecule and traces the connection of its atoms. According to Dong Si, an assistant professor at UWB, analysing the atomic structure of COVID-19 can speed up the development of vaccines and drugs.

Electron microscopy of COVID-19

DeepTracer uses images from electron microscopes to analyse the virus in cryogenic conditions in a process called 3D electron microscopy. To further refine the image, most researchers in the field use physics or traditional computational methods.

In his most recent research paper, Si wrote: ‘We applied DeepTracer on a set of 62 coronavirus-related raw experimental density maps, among them ten with no existing deposited model structure. We observed an average residue match of 84% with the deposited structures and an average RMSD of 0.93Å.

‘Larger comparative tests further exemplify DeepTracer′s competitive accuracy and efficiency of multi-chain all atom complex structure prediction, with the ability of tracing around 60,000 residues within two hours.’

COVID-19 vaccines in the UK

Vaccines have been proven to be successful in combating a wide variety of viruses, saving countless lives each year. However, scientists are yet to release a successful COVID-19 vaccine to the public. One factor influencing the development of COVID-19 vaccines is the lack of people volunteering to take part in vaccine trials.

In the UK there are currently two national coronavirus vaccine studies approved by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The first, ‘Investigating a vaccine against COVID-19’, assesses whether healthy people can be protected from COVID-19 with a new vaccine called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. Scientists hope that this trail can provide valuable information on the safety of the vaccine and its ability to generate a good immune response.

The second UK trial, ‘Clinical trial to assess the safety of a coronavirus vaccine in healthy men and women’, is studying the efficacy of a purified synthetic chemical called mRNA which mimics the virus gene for a spike protein on its surface. The study leaders hope that when the vaccine is injected into human muscle it will trigger cells to manufacture copies of the spike protein and these stimulate the body to produce antibodies. The team hope that these antibodies in the blood of a vaccinated person will block the entry of SARS-CoV-2 viruses completely or limit it and subsequent infection.

Click here to find out if you are eligible for these COVID-19 studies.

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