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The protease protein is both shaped like a heart and functions as one, allowing the virus replicate and spread. Inhibiting the protease would block virus reproduction. Credit: Andrey Kovalevsky/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

A team of researchers has performed the first room-temperature X-ray measurements on the SARS-CoV-2 main protease — the enzyme that enables the virus to reproduce.

Coronavirus graphic

In the race to identify solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory are joining the fight by applying expertise in computational science, advanced manufacturing, data science and neutron science.

Scientists created a novel polymer that is as effective as natural proteins in transporting protons through a membrane. Credit: ORNL/Jill Hemman

Biological membranes, such as the “walls” of most types of living cells, primarily consist of a double layer of lipids, or “lipid bilayer,” that forms the structure, and a variety of embedded and attached proteins with highly specialized functions, including proteins that rapidly and selectively transport ions and molecules in and out of the cell.

Illustration of the intricate organization of the PKA structure, wherein different parts of the protein are connected through elaborate hydrogen bonding networks (dashed yellow lines), glued together by the hydrophobic assemblies (light blue and orange volumes)—all working together to build the functional active site. Insert shows protonation of the transferred phosphoryl group (cyan mesh) and its many interactions with water and the active site amino acid residues. Credit: Jill Hemman/ORNL

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., March 20, 2019—Direct observations of the structure and catalytic mechanism of a prototypical kinase enzyme—protein kinase A or PKA—will provide researchers and drug developers with significantly enhanced abilities to understand and treat fatal diseases and neurological disorders such as cancer, diabetes, and cystic fibrosis.