Australian researchers develop new tool to track Covid-19 mutations

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on September 11, 2020 Published on September 11, 2020

A team of researchers in Australia developed a software tool called Covid-3D, which can collect genomic and protein information about the coronavirus and its mutations. The researchers believe that this will support drug development, according to the study published in the journal Nature Genetics.

The tool was developed by the University of Melbourne Associate Professor David Ascher and his team at the Bio21 Molecular Science and Biotechnology Institute and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

Researches noted in their study that Covid-3D contains information about all the protein structures that coincide with the SARS-CoV-2 (Covid-19) genome. This will also encompass genetic mutations and their resultant mutant protein structure.

Associate Professor Ascher said in the study: “Although the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a relatively new pathogen, its ability to readily accumulate mutations across its genes was evident from the start of this pandemic.”

Genome sequencing

He added: “In the context of therapeutic drug design and discovery, these mutations, and the patterns by which they accumulate within the virus’ protein structures, can affect the ability of vaccines and drugs to bind the virus or to create a specific immune response against it.

“Because of this, scientists must not only try to control the virus but outsmart it by predicting how it will change over time,” he further added.

“At Bio21 it is being used as part of ongoing efforts to understand and develop drugs to treat Covid-19,” Associate Professor Ascher said.

For the study, Professor Ascher’s and the team examined the genome sequencing data of more than 120,000 SARS-CoV-2 samples from infected people globally. They included in their study different mutations of the virus present in Australia.

They tested and analysed the mutations’ effects on their protein structure using computer simulations.

The researchers also found coronavirus is mutating slower than other viruses such as influenza, with about two new changes in its genome every month.

“It is only when you know how a mutation will affect the 3D shape of a protein, that you can predict if it will compromise your drug’s ability to bind,” Associate Professor Ascher said.

Ascher stated that the Covid-3D continues to be updated with new protein structures, mutations, and analysis so as to keep up with the pace of virus mutations.

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Published on September 11, 2020
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