Exploring how to curb the spread of omicron

March 14, 2022
Omicron, Covid-19

VBS Professor Fang Li recently published the paper, "Cryo-EM structure of a SARS-CoV-2 omicron spike protein ectodomain," in Nature Communications.

In this study, Li, along with Bin Liu, an assistant professor at the Hormel Institute, and Gang Ye, Postdoctoral Associate identifies the structural mechanism that may explain why the omicron variant is so effective in infecting people. The tip of the omicron spike protein is always exposed for attacking human cells, which the team found may explain why omicron is so infectious. In addition, compared to previous strains, the tip of the omicron spike protein has undergone extensive mutations, which cause antibodies that have targeted previous strains to no longer be effective against omicron. This explains why omicron has been effective in infecting vaccinated people as well as unvaccinated.

Li explains, “Currently, omicron is escaping immune surveillance aimed at the original viral strains, but vaccines and antibodies specifically designed to target the omicron spike protein may bring this variant under control and could potentially help us prepare for addressing future variants.”

Funding was provided by the National Institutes of Health and University of Minnesota. To learn more about this study, please check out the UMN Research Brief, "How omicron infects cells while evading immunity."