Canadian experts release first molecular images of B.1.1.7 variant of Covid-19
Canadian researchers have published the first structural images of a mutation in the B.1.1.7 variant of the Covid-19 virus that may explain why it has proved far more infectious than the previous strain, causing a rapid rise in cases.
The B.1.1.7 variant, first reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) in mid-December last year, has an unusually large number of mutations.
“The pictures, taken at near-atomic resolution, provide critical insight as to why the B.1.1.7 variant... is more infectious,” University of British Columbia (UBC) said in a statement.
The research team, led by Dr Sriram Subramaniam, professor in UBC’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology, found of “particular interest” a mutation known as “N501Y” located on the coronavirus’s spike protein. “The images we captured provide the first structural glimpse of the N501Y mutant and show that the changes resulting from the mutation are localised,” he said.
To “visualise the detailed shapes of viruses and proteins”, the research team used cryo-electron microscopes called cryo-EM that can be up to 12 feet high, and the imaging technology uses beams of electrons to picture the samples at liquid nitrogen temperatures.