Coronavirus – What we’re doing and how you can help
Proteins are molecular machines that perform many functions we associate with life. They sense the environment (e.g. in taste and smell), perform work (e.g. muscle contraction and breaking down food), and play structural roles (e.g. your hair). They are made of a linear chain of chemicals called amino acids that, in many cases, spontaneously “fold” into compact, functional structures. Much like any other machine, it’s how a protein’s components are arranged and move that determine the protein’s function. In this case, the components are atoms.
Viruses also have proteins that they use to suppress our immune systems and reproduce themselves.
To help tackle coronavirus, we want to understand how these viral proteins work and how we can design therapeutics to stop them.
There are many experimental methods for determining protein structures. While extremely powerful, they only reveal a single snapshot of a protein’s usual shape. But proteins have lots of moving parts, so we really want to see the protein in action. The structures we can’t see experimentally may be the key to discovering a new therapeutic.
Using football as an analogy for the experimental situation, it’s as if you could only see the players lined up for the snap (the single arrangement the players spend the most time in) and were blind to the rest of the game.