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Coronaviruses, a genus of the Coronaviridae family, are enveloped viruses with a large positive-strand RNA genome. The recently identified SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the disease known as COVID19, is one of seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. Others include SARS-CoV (which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS) and MERS-CoV (which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS). A team of scientists recently identified several epitopes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus, a crucial step in vaccine development strategies.
Epitopes are regions on viral proteins that immune cells bind to drive a targeted immune response. Most epitopes are approximately five or six amino acids in length. A typical full-length viral protein sequence may contain many different epitopes to which antibodies can bind.
The authors of the study drew on data from the Immune Epitope Database as well as Virus Pathogen Resource, a compilation of information about known pathogenic viruses. The team compiled known epitopes from other coronaviruses, mapped the corresponding regions to SARS-CoV-2, and used the information to predict likely epitopes.
They identified several specific regions in SARS-CoV-2 that have high homology to the SARS virus, indicating that SARS-CoV is the closest related virus to SARS-CoV-2. Specifically targeting these epitopes may generate immunity to related coronaviruses and promote resistance to viral evolution.
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