Using computational tools, the team is studying two close variants – SARS-CoV and NL63 – to understand how their spike proteins’ interaction with ACE2 receptors of human cells is affecting their transmission potential and severity of the disease.
SARS-CoV is more severe than SARS-CoV-2 whereas NL63 shows milder symptoms than the other two. This brings up several questions like whether they evolved from the same ancestor, the similarities and differences, reasons for different mortality rates, whether immunity for NL63 offer some degree of protection from the other two, etc., said Prof M Michael Gromiha, Department of Biotechnology, Bhupat, and Jyoti Mehta School of Biosciences, IIT-M.
“Our effort is to find answers to these questions to an extent possible by studying the interaction mechanism of these viruses with the organs of the human body,” he said.
Using various computational tools, the team found that the interaction area between spike protein and ACE2, surrounding hydrophobicity and interaction energy play a key role in deciding the severity and transmission potential of coronaviruses. The team also found that the distant cousin NL63 has unique ACE2 binding sites compared to SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2.