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Understanding COVID-19 Biology to Design a Vaccine

By Keith Johnson1, Didem Vardar-Ulu2, Shuchismita Dutta3

1. Bradley University College of Liberal Arts and Sciences 2. Boston University 3. RCSB Protein Data Bank, Rutgers University

This multi-part case study introduces the reader to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, replication, and treatment. Additional worksheets introduce students to bioinformatics tools of 3-D protein visualization and BLAST searches.

Listed in Teaching Materials | resource by group Molecular CaseNet Faculty Mentoring Network

Version 1.0 - published on 12 Jun 2020 doi:10.25334/DNC7-8581 - cite this

Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International according to these terms



The case presented here is written during the COVID-19 pandemic (Spring 2020) and uses this backdrop to introduce students to the initial stages of developing a vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, targeting its spike protein.  The viral protein binds to a specific human protein on human epithelial cells and this initiates the infection. The structure of the viral spike and human receptor protein interaction was  determined using cryo-electron microscopy by Yan et al (2020). Using the freely available molecular structural data and publicly available visualization software and bioinformatics tools and resources, the case leads students to examine the interaction of the viral spike (S) protein with the human epithelial cell ACE-2 protein, the site of viral attachment. The vaccine development discussed in this case is focused on blocking this interaction to stop infection.


Painting depicting coronavirus. (Acknowledgement: Illustration by David S. Goodsell, RCSB Protein Data Bank; doi: 10.2210/rcsb_pdb/goodsell-gallery-019.)

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