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Research Roundup: How COVID-19 Hijacks Host Cells and More

Every week there are numerous scientific studies published. Here’s a look at some of the more interesting ones.

How COVID-19 Hijacks the Host Cell

Researchers at Heidelberg University in Germany performed detailed imaging analysis to determine how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, reprograms infected cells. It only takes 24 to 48 hours. Their images showed an “obvious and massive change in the endomembrane systems of the infected cells.” These systems allow the cell to define different compartments and sites. The virus causes changes in the membrane so it can produce its own replication organelles, amplifying the viral genome.

The researchers describe it as a “massive accumulation of bubbles: two membrane layers forming a big balloon.” The balloons form a shielded compartment where the viral genomes are multiplied and released to incorporate into new virus particles.

“By now we can expect the coronavirus to become seasonal,” said Ralf Bratenschlager, professor in the Department of Infectious Diseases, Molecular Virology, at Heidelberg University. “Thus, there is an urgent need to develop and implement both prophylactic and therapeutic strategies against the virus.”

The changes were observed within a few hours after infection. Because they believe this could be a key to new therapies, they have indicated they wanted the 3D structural information and the other data they collected made available to be used by everyone.

“I believe we are setting a precedent on the fact that we are sharing all data that we produced with the scientific community,” said Yannick Schwab, team leader and head of Electron Microscopy Core Facility at Heidelberg. “This way we can support the global effort to study how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with its host.”

COVID-19 and Sense of Smell

One of the peculiar hallmarks of COVID-19 is the loss of the sense of smell and taste, which affects about 80% of patients. Why how and why? There were early concerns it meant it was affecting the central nervous system, but increasingly the data is suggesting it’s the nasal epithelium. Olfactory neurons don’t have ACE2 receptors, the primary way the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects cells, but sustentacular cells, which support olfactory neurons, do.

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