Research Highlight

Study uncovers routes to vaccine for novel coronavirus

doi:10.1038/nindia.2020.52 Published online 28 March 2020

The novel coronavirus imaged by an electron microscope.


Researchers from the King George’s Medical University in Lucknow have discovered that the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has new sites in the proteins in its outer layer1. The virus, they say, utilises such novel sites to rapidly infect host cells – a potential factor that probably played a part in the ongoing pandemic.

They have also shown that the novel coronavirus is structurally close to the SARS coronavirus, suggesting that the inhibitors designed to disrupt the SARS-CoV proliferation inside the host cells may also be used as a therapy for the latest novel coronavirus.

Coronaviruses have the potential to jump from animals to humans. These viruses cause respiratory illnesses in humans. The origin of the novel coronavirus, however, is not known.

Scientists, led by Shailendra K. Saxena, sequenced the genes that encode the spike (S) proteins in the outer layer of two strains of coronaviruses isolated from the seafood market of Wuhan, where the novel virus first emerged. They then compared the S protein-coding genes of the novel coronaviruses with those of different strains of SARS-CoV that usually infects bats.

The infection of the coronavirus is initiated via the interaction of the viral envelope with the host's cellular membrane. The viral envelope comprises three proteins, with the S protein being one of the main proteins.

They have found that the novel coronavirus is only 12.8 per cent different with the SARS-CoV in terms of S protein.

Despite being similar to other coronaviruses, the novel coronavirus exhibits new sites in their structures and this may result in distinct immune responses in a host. These novel sites, the researchers say, may open avenues for the development of peptide-based vaccine for the novel corona virus.

[Nature India's latest coverage on the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic here. More updates on the global crisis here.]


1. Kumar, S. et al. Structural, glycosylation and antigenic variation between 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) and SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). Virus Dis. 31, 13-21 (2020)