New Details of SARS-COV-2 Structure

A new study led by Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) brings into sharper focus the structural details of the COVID-19 virus, revealing an elliptical shape that “breathes,” or changes shape, as it moves in the body.

 “Understanding the SARS-COV-2 virus envelope should allow us to model the actual process of the virus attaching to the cell and apply this knowledge to our understanding of the therapies at the molecular level. For instance, how can viral activity be inhibited by antiviral drugs? How much antiviral blocking is needed to prevent virus-to-host interaction? We don’t know. But this is the best thing we can do right now — to be able to simulate actual processes” says  Dmitry Korkin.

Feeding genetic sequencing information and massive amounts of real-world data about the pandemic virus into a supercomputer in Texas, Korkin and his team produced a computational model of the virus’s envelope, or outer shell, in “near atomistic detail” that had until now been beyond the reach of even the most powerful microscopes and imaging techniques.

The computer used structural bioinformatics and computational biophysics to create its own picture of what the SARS-COV-2 particle looks like. And that picture showed that the virus is more elliptical than spherical and can change its shape

Korkin said the structural model developed by the researchers expands what was already known about the envelope architecture of the SARS-COV-2 virus and previous SARS- and MERS-related outbreaks. The computational protocol used to create the model could also be applied to more rapidly model future coronaviruses, he said. A clearer picture of the virus’ structure could reveal crucial vulnerabilities.

“The envelope properties of SARS-COV-2 are likely to be similar to other coronaviruses,” he said. “Eventually, knowledge about the properties of coronavirus membrane proteins could lead to new therapies and vaccines for future viruses.”


Weria Pezeshkian, Fabian Grünewald, Oleksandr Narykov, Senbao Lu, Valeria Arkhipova, Alexey Solodovnikov, Tsjerk A. Wassenaar, Siewert J. Marrink, Dmitry Korkin. Molecular architecture and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 envelope by integrative modeling. Structure, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.str.2023.02.006

Worcester Polytechnic Institute. “New details of SARS-COV-2 structure: Computational modeling reveals finer view of particle’s outer membrane, which could lead to more effective therapies and vaccines.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 March 2023. <>.

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