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COVID-19: On the way to a vaccine

Author(s): Nik Tsotakos

Penn State Harrisburg

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This multi-part case study introduces the reader to the SARS-CoV-2 virus origins, the molecular basis of the infection, the development and severity of symptoms, and treatment.


The case presented here is written during the COVID-19 pandemic (Spring 2020) and uses this backdrop to introduce students to a complete set of studies in virology. The students will understand how the virus evolved, and what its relationship is to SARS and MERS, two other coronaviruses responsible for past epidemics. They will understand the molecular basis of diagnosis, and design their own diagnostic kit, as well as understand the infection process, and explore the genetics of the human receptors for SARS-CoV-2. 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.

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