Coronaviruses have learned to mimic human immune proteins and trick the body

Many plants and animals use the art of mimicry to trick their prey or predators. Viruses

use a similar strategy: viral proteins can mimic the three-dimensional shape of their host's proteins to trick the host into helping the virus complete its life cycle.

“Viruses use mimicry for the same reason,as plants and animals. Their goal is to cheat, ”explains Sagi Shapira, Ph.D., assistant professor of systems biology at the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University. “We hypothesized that identifying similar viral proteins would provide us with clues to how viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, cause disease.”

In his research, Shapira usedsupercomputers to find virus simulators using technology similar to 3D facial recognition software. They scanned over 7,000 viruses and over 4,000 hosts in Earth's ecosystems and found 6 million copies of viral mimicry.

Mimicry is a more common strategy amongviruses than we could ever imagine. It is used by all kinds of viruses, regardless of genome size, how the virus replicates, or whether it infects bacteria, plants, insects or humans. "

Sagi Shapira, Ph.D.

But some types of viruses use mimicrymore than others. Coronaviruses are especially good at this. It turned out that they mimic more than 150 proteins, including those that control blood clotting or activate a set of immune proteins. Those that increase inflammation in the body.

Study of functions and mimicry of viral proteinsmade scientists understand that, perhaps, it is in the study of the biologists of the virus itself that the answer lies. Such work can help understand how viruses cause disease and who may be most at risk.

“By studying viruses, we can not only revealfundamental principles of biology, but also how they disrupt cellular homeostasis and cause pathology. There is hope that one day we will be able to use this knowledge to fight back, ”concludes Shapiro.

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