Structure of SARS-CoV-2
In late 2019, the first reports of an unknown respiratory infection—in some cases fatal—emerged from Wuhan, China. The source of that infection was quickly identified as a novel coronavirus, related to those that had caused outbreaks of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) from 2002-2004 and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012.
The World Health Organization declared the illness resulting from the new virus, COVID-19, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
Like other coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 particles are spherical and have proteins called spikes protruding from their surface. These spikes latch onto human cells, then undergo a structural change that allows the viral membrane to fuse with the cell membrane. The viral genes can then enter the host cell to be copied, producing more viruses. Recent work shows that, like the virus that caused the 2002 SARS outbreak, SARS-CoV-2 spikes bind to receptors on the human cell surface called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).
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