The new South African variant that is causing concern in the world has created no less than 32 mutations in the shell protein that make it contagious hundreds of percent more than the original virus. What is the same “protein spike” that causes all the trouble and what is the chance that it is resistant to the vaccine?
The alarming forecast for the arrival of a new variant is faster than we thought: the new South African variant “Omicron” is spreading at a high speed of 500% of the original Chinese corona virus. To date, 32 mutations have been found in the shell protein “Spike Protein”, which begins the process of infection and raises great concern about resistance to the vaccine.
Hundreds of researchers around the world have been trying for months to track down the envelope of the virus that causes all the “trouble”: this envelope allows the virus to attach to the human cell, penetrate it and multiply with tremendous speed.
The latest graph published by epidemiologists in the US, demonstrates how dangerous the virus is: it has caused a record rate of infections within a few days of being discovered, far more than the rate of infection of the other variants.
This is how the mutation is spreading
Unlike animal bacteria of their own, viruses cannot live outside a living cell. In order to reproduce they must penetrate a living cell, take over the hereditary charge, “steal” it and replicate themselves in order to infect more cells.
So does the new corona virus. Using the same “thorns” in the outer shell, corona viruses attach to receptors on the cells of the respiratory system, called ACE-2. This attachment transports the corona virus to a second stage, in which additional envelope proteins dissolve the human cell envelope, and thus the virus penetrates into the cell nucleus, replicating itself through the hereditary charge of the human cell – DNA, found in the nucleus.
However, the corona virus is not always successful in its work: many people infected with the virus will not develop any symptoms at all. The virus will be present in their bodies, but the immune system will be able to destroy it even before it has managed to penetrate the cells and cause destruction. In others, the virus will cause a very mild illness that will probably lead to a fever. In this condition, the body raises the temperature to lead to an uncomfortable environment for the activity of the corona virus, while circulating white blood cells that will destroy the virus.
If the virus has managed to penetrate the cells of the respiratory system, it will begin to multiply and infect more cells quickly, creating a condition called an “immune storm”. In this condition the body injects huge amounts of white blood cells towards the viruses, which rush towards them, destroying them, while also destroying healthy lung cells. This condition is known as pneumonia in which some patients with coronary heart disease.
In some cases the disease becomes very turbulent. More and more corona viruses are able to replicate rapidly, and the immune system is unable to cope with them. More and more lung cells are damaged, to the point of lung failure and the need for artificial respiration. The virus can also spread to the bloodstream, where it can cause sepsis – a common infection that leads to a drop in blood pressure – and later cardiac arrest and death.
Back to the shell: The virus is coated with proteins called Spike Proteins that give the corona virus the form of “thorns” or “crown”, hence the name of the virus (crown is a crown in English). But this is not just a unique form. The same envelope has the decisive effect on the ability of the virus to infect us.
The corona virus envelope contains three proteins: membrane protein M, envelope protein E, and spike protein S.
Proteins M and E are mainly involved in the replication and assembly of the virus, while protein S plays a significant role in the penetration of the virus into the human cell and the onset of infection.
The corona virus spike proteins are divided into two important functional subunits that include a subunit called N-Terminal S1 that forms the rounded head of the S protein (or if you will: the “thorn” tip), and an area called C-Terminal S2 that forms the stem. Of the protein embedded within the virus.
As the corona virus approaches the cell it is about to infect, the S1 subunit at the end of each “thorn” will locate the receptor on the cell to which it will attach, while the S1 subunit will be responsible for fusing the corona virus envelope with the human cell envelope.
Without S protein, viruses like the corona will not be able to infect the cell. And this is exactly why vaccines are focused on it. But in addition to the role of the corona S protein penetrating the cell, it also stimulates the formation of neutralizing antibodies whose function is to “smell” the envelope proteins, pounce on them and attack them. The result of the same acquaintance between the antibodies created by the human body inspired by the vaccine – and the envelope proteins leads to the corona virus not being able to attach to the cell, penetrate into it and replicate.
It is now clear why the mutations found in the Omicron variant are so worrying: a change in the variant envelope may also affect the ability of the vaccine-producing antibody to “recognize” the corona virus and inhibit it. Changing the variant shell improves its ability to quickly attach to the cell, coalesce into it and replicate.
The corona virus will continue to create mutations, some of which are more successful for him, some less so. The sophisticated ones are exactly those of the new variant: mutations in the envelope proteins that will lead to rapid infection, as part of the “evolutionary goal” of viruses: to reproduce as much as possible. The only way to stop them is simple: get vaccinated.