Singapore: The genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, can change shape and structure to boost its survival, say researchers noting that the finding can help produce more effective drugs to treat the infectious disease.
The study led by researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School, the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS) and Bioinformatics Institute (BII), showed that the virus' ribonucleic acid (RNA) can fold into complex and dynamic shapes for its growth and survival when inside infected cells, the Strait Times reported.
The team also discovered that the virus RNA can interact with a lot of the human cell's RNA to make use of it for its own survival.
"Aside from understanding the shape that the virus takes when inside human cells, recent work has also shown that its shapes are also very important for drugs targeting the RNA, which was what prompted us to start this project," Dr Wan Yue, group leader of the Laboratory of RNA Genomics and Structure was quoted as saying.
The findings were published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.
While a lot of research has gone into how antibodies interact with the virus proteins and its genome, little is known about how the virus interacts with human RNA once it infects a cell.
In the new study, the team learnt that the virus binds with a small nucleolar RNA, or snoRNA, to steal its modification abilities. This helps to stabilise the virus, making it more successful in infecting the host cells.
The snoRNA modifies the body's translation machinery to enable the body to produce protein properly.
The findings can help to inform other researchers on the regions in the virus RNA that can be targeted for drug development, Yue said.
The team had also compared the structures of the original, or wild-type SARS-CoV-2 virus, with a variant, and found that the latter has a region of its RNA deleted.
They also found shape differences between the wild type and the variant, the researchers said.