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US Scientists announce ‘breakthrough’ atomic map of coronavirus

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US scientists announced Wednesday they had created the first 3D atomic scale map of the part of the novel coronavirus that attaches to and infects human cells, a critical step toward developing vaccine and treatments.

It came as the death toll from the COVID-19 virus jumped past 2,000, almost all of them in mainland China where 74,185 cases of infection have been confirmed since it first emerged in late December.

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The team from the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) first studied the genetic code of the virus made publicly available by Chinese researchers, and used it to develop a stabilized sample of a key part called the spike protein.

They then imaged the spike protein using cutting-edge technology known as cryogenic electron microscopy, publishing their findings in the journal Science.

“The spike is really the antigen that we want to introduce into humans to prime their immune response to make antibodies against this, so that when they then see the actual virus, their immune systems are ready and loaded to attack,” UT Austin scientist Jason McLellan, who led the research, told AFP.

He added that he and his colleagues had already spent many years studying other members of the coronavirus family including SARS and MERS, which helped them develop the engineering methods required to keep the spike protein stable.

Their engineered spike protein is itself being tested as a potential vaccine by the NIH.

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The team is sending the map of its molecular structure out to collaborators around the world so they can improve it by making it provoke a greater immune response.

The model can also help scientists develop new proteins to bind to different parts of the spike and prevent it from functioning, to treat those already infected. These are known as antivirals.

“This is a beautifully clear structure of one of the most important coronavirus proteins — a real breakthrough in terms of understanding how this coronavirus finds and enters cells,” said virologist Benjamin Neuman at the Texas A&M University-Texarkana, who was not involved in the work.

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“The structure shows that although the spike is made of the three identical proteins, one flexes out above the rest, effectively giving the virus a longer reach,” he added.

A useful aspect of the structure for vaccine development is that it maps out the size and location of chains of sugar molecules the virus uses in part to avoid being detected by the human immune system, added Neuman.

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Cryogenic electron microscopy uses beams of electrons to examine the atomic structures of biomolecules that are frozen to help preserve them.

Three scientists credited with developing the technology were awarded the 2017 Nobel prize in chemistry.


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2020 Election

Joe Biden has one key coronavirus question he wants answered: ‘Where are the tests, Mr. President?’

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Despite the inability to hold campaign rallies, the 2020 presidential campaign is continuing in spite of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

With the response to coronavirus being the top public policy discussion in America, all eyes are focused on President Donald Trump's actions.

Trump had promised the nation that he would set up COVID-19 drive-thru testing sites in the parking lots of big-box retailers but has so far failed to deliver.

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Banks are causing a cash crisis by tightening lending standards during coronavirus crisis

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Major banks in America are tightening access to credit as coronavirus shutdowns put households across America in dire financial shape, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

"Banks and financial-technology firms are starting to toughen their approval standards for new loans to consumers and small businesses. That means many people could find it hard to get credit just when they most need it, as the novel coronavirus pandemic puts thousands out of work," the newspaper reported.

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BUSTED: Florida’s GOP governor illegally denied Miami Herald access to coronavirus briefing

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Gov. Ron DeSantis denied the Miami Herald access to a COVID-19 coronavirus briefing, the newspaper's Tallahassee Bureau Chief reported Saturday.

"Gov. Ron DeSantis decided to violate the state's public meeting laws and chose to exclude the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times from a media briefing at the Capitol," Mary Ellen Klas reported.

"His media staff told another reporter, NSF's Jim Turner, that if he insisted that we be allowed in, Turner would be kept out," she noted.

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