The Graz researchers are one step ahead of the Coronavirus

Innophore, acib GmbH, and Graz University can use AI screening methods and hypothetical scenarios to study and predict current and future corona mutations.

Graz (OTS) All biological systems, including humans, animals, and plants, are constantly changing and thus they are constantly evolving. Viruses, including the Coronavirus, are also subject to this development. Like other viruses, it infiltrates human cells, where it fetches its genetic information and replicates. In the process, the viral genome is copied – with small random changes or errors repeatedly occurring: the virus mutates. Some mutations give the virus advantages such as better adaptation to changing environmental conditions, which is often accompanied by faster proliferation or more efficient penetration into host cells and thus a higher infection rate. How quickly new variants emerge depends on the type of virus, but also how it spreads. The more widely the virus spreads, the more likely it is that the preferred evolutionary mutations will spread, Christian Gruber, CEO of Graz bioinformatics and the artificial intelligence company, Innophore explains.

Since January 2020, the Austrian Innophore Center for Industrial Biotechnology (acib) and the Institute of Molecular Biological Sciences of the University of Graz have been researching SARS-CoV-2 mutations and using modern artificial intelligence (AI) to estimate their suitability and severity. Sorting methods based. To do this, we first looked at the structure of the virus in order to understand how and at what point it would change, as well as to predict how it would change in the future. At the same time, in cooperation with international partners, we began to continuously analyze global sequence data. This was appropriate from the beginning of our work with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention and later with Harvard Medical School and Google, and in some cases it had to be taken into account when looking for active ingredients, ”says Gruber.

To date, more than half a million SARS-Cov-2 genomes have been sequenced globally. With this data set, which must be continually expanded with new data, scientists have been able to monitor the spread and change of the virus since the start of the epidemic. Gruber: “We now know, for example, that changes occur in the entire genome of the virus and sometimes have a direct effect on infection and transmission. This is currently evident in variant B.1.1.7, which was discovered in Great Britain, followed by variant B 1.351 from South Africa and the Brazilian variant B.1.1.28 P.1. ”

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Predicting mutations through computer modeling

In order to be able to estimate how these mutations are spread and future, researchers use computer models and artificial intelligence. “Based on the sequencing that is now increasingly being implemented globally, we can use AI and modeling methods to roughly calculate different scenarios. By comparing our data with clinical and laboratory observations, we can improve predictive models. In other words, we put ourselves in where the virus is: how it reacts. This allows predicting the changes and significance of the current corona variables, but also hypothetical, and studying them at the atomic level, ”says Gruber. With the help of models, researchers can use supercomputer experiments to assess the risk of virus mutations even before the virus mutates. A milestone in global Corona research. Gruber: “This will keep us one step ahead of the virus.”

Increasing the effectiveness of vaccines

How important is this work in a study by Graz researchers that has just been published in Scientific Reports, a popular journal of the Nature Group. It currently describes less widespread and structurally clear mutations – in serine 477 – that bind more strongly to human cell receptors and thus could become highly relevant. “The S477G variant, which first appeared in Vienna, can now be found in eight countries. According to current figures, more than 27,000 people worldwide have contracted the S477N mutation,” Gruber quotes from the current newspaper.

The methods developed by Innophore allow vaccine manufacturers to optimize existing vaccines more quickly so that they are also effective against existing virus mutations such as S477N or S477G. BioNTech is in a current post (Link https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.02.04.429765) Already familiar with the work of the Graz researchers and confirmed the data on S477N and S477G and indicated the strongest association of the variants with human cells. This is an important basis for designing adaptations for vaccines. “These results represent a great opportunity for all vaccine manufacturers, as these models help the industry prepare and develop vaccine lines that can also protect against unknown and possibly more dangerous mutations,” says Gruber, and explains why future speculations are important in vaccine development. The following is important: “Unlike a drug used to treat an existing disease, vaccines have a protective effect, that is, before the disease occurs. No further adjustments can be made from the time of vaccination. Therefore, predictions about potential viral variants are important in vaccine manufacturing.”

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“Viral weather forecast”

The findings of the Graz researchers can not only make a decisive contribution to the development of the current Corona pandemic, but also offer hope in combating future epidemics: “Similar to weather forecasts, we use current modeling data to estimate the situation that could be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Virus research also identifies influenza strains that will spread epidemiologically during the development of influenza vaccines and uses the available data to produce appropriate vaccines that are effective against these variants.

“Although the situation with SARS-CoV-2 is different, from a bioinformatics point of view, we have much more data on SARS-CoV-2 about influenza,” Gruber offers insight and outlook at the same time: “This gives us greater opportunities. In the future, there are more possibilities to predict the weather for the virus so that we can respond early.

The researchers’ medium-term goal is to work with major vaccine manufacturers to control epidemics at an early stage – from warning to prevention to preventive response system. Gruber: “Close collaboration between basic research and industry has led us to solutions in less than a year that can effectively control the epidemic.” It is now imperative to institutionalize and design this long-term collaboration in order to prepare globally against viral diseases. According to the researchers, there is no doubt that epidemics will continue to accompany our lives.

To the original post: Serine 477 plays a critical role in the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with the human receptor ACE2 “in scientific reports: www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-83761-5

Pictures With reference to the image credits for free use: https://myshare.acib.at/s/6jRCzRi3xkoSW7B

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About Enofor

The company Innophore, headquartered in Graz, was founded in 2017 as a branch of acib and Graz University and specializes in the fields of digital drug development and enzyme search using artificial intelligence and deep learning. Through EOSS Industries as a strategic investor, the company has built an international client base, including well-known international partners and clients such as Harvard, Google, Merck, Henkel, SignalChem and many more. Count. This study was conducted with the support of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), the Vienna Scientific Group (VSC), the acib and the University of Graz Doctoral Academy.

Über acib

The Austrian Center for Industrial Biotechnology (acib), established in 2010, is developing new, more environmentally friendly and more economical processes in the biotechnology, chemical and pharmaceutical industries and using nature’s methods as a model. acib, a non-profit organization, is an international research center for industrial biotechnology with global locations and headquarters in Graz. ACIB sees itself as a partnership of more than 150 universities and companies. ACIB is owned by the Universities of Innsbruck and Graz, University of Technology Graz, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna and Joanneum Research. K2 is funded as part of the COMET program by BMVIT, BMDW, and the states of Styria, Vienna, Lower Austria and Tirol. The COMET program is handled by FFG.

Inquiries and Contact:

Mag. Dr. Christian Gruber
Innophore GmbH CEO and project manager at acib GmbH and the University of Graz
Phone: +43 316 269 205
Email: christian.gruber@innophore.com

Inform me
Martin Walpott, MA
acib GmbH
Head of Public Relations and Marketing
Phone: +43 3116 873 9312
Email: martin.walpot@acib.at

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