A structural image of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant published by University of B.C. researchers. (UBC)

A structural image of the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant published by University of B.C. researchers. (UBC)

UBC researchers capture first images of rapidly spreading B.1.1.7 COVID variant

Researchers believe current COVID vaccines will still work on U.K. variant

Researchers at the University of B.C. have created their image of a mutation on the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein that they believe is partly responsible for the B.1.1.7 variant.

The variant, known as the U.K. variant, has begun to make up the majority of new COVID-19 cases both in B.C. and around the country. According to federal data, there have been 4,039 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant in B.C. as of May 3.

The images were taken at a near-atomic resolution with a cryo-electron microscope – essentially, the imaging of samples at liquid nitrogen temperatures – and can provide information on why the variant is spreading so fast, according to Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, professor in UBC faculty of medicine’s department of biochemistry and molecular biology.

“The B.1.1.7 variant of concern, which was first reported to the World Health Organization in mid-December 2020, has an unusually large number of mutations,” Subramaniam said. “Of particular interest is a mutation known as N501Y located on the virus’s spike protein, which is what the virus uses to attach itself to human cells.”

That N501Y mutation is the only mutation in the B.1.1.7 variant located on the portion of the spike protein that binds to the human ACE2 receptor, which is the enzyme on the surface of our cells that serves as the entry gate for SARS-CoV-2.

The question is, will existing COVID-19 vaccines – given to more than 40 per cent of British Columbians – remain effective in the face of the variant?

“Our analysis revealed that even though the N501Y mutant can bind and enter our cells more readily, it can still be neutralized by antibodies that block the entry of the unmutated version of the virus into cells,” Subramaniam said, adding that he is also examining other variants, including the P.1 (Brazilian), B.1.351 (South African), B.1.427/B.1.429(Californian) and B.1.617 (Indian) variants.

“It’s important to understand the different molecular structures of these emerging variants to determine whether they’ll respond to existing treatments and vaccines and ultimately find ways to control their spread more effectively,” he said.

READ MORE: COVID-19 modelling shows B.C. bending the curve of variant cases

READ MORE: ‘Perfect storm’ of variants, increasing COVID cases are concerning for Surrey fire chief


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusUBC

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is an independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
B.C.’s 1st vaccine-induced blood clot case detected in Interior Health

Interior Health also recorded 52 new cases of COVID-19

MBSS visual art students helped make the Cottage Restaurant’s protective barrier stand out for the summer. (Barry Coulter photo)
Artists give Cottage patio blocks a blast of colour

Mount Baker Secondary School visual art students gave the protective barrier at… Continue reading

Stuart Ashley Jones, 56, was at Grand Forks provincial court for sentencing on May 5, 2021. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks man shot by police during massive flood sentenced to house arrest

Stuart Ashley Jones was shot by a Grand Forks Mountie after ramming two police cruisers in May 2018

SD5 and SD6 have added electric school buses to their transportation fleets. Photo courtesy B.C. Government.
East Kootenay school districts add electric buses to fleets

Two school districts in the East Kootenay are adding an electric school… Continue reading

Two Pileated Woodpeckers sharing the bounty! Kathleen Opal photo
Urban wildlife Part XI: The East Kootenay birds (and others) of 2021

The work of local photographers in the Advertiser throughout 2021. Part XI. With links to Parts I-X

Protesters attempt to stop clear-cutting of old-growth trees in Fairy Creek near Port Renfrew. (Will O’Connell photo)
VIDEO: Workers, activists clash at site of Vancouver Island logging operation

Forest license holders asking for independent investigation into incident

Starting Tuesday, May 11, B.C. adults born in 1981 and earlier will be able to register for a vaccine dose. (Haley Ritchie/Black Press Media)
BC adults 40+ eligible to book COVID-19 vaccinations next week

Starting Tuesday, people born in 1981 and earlier will be able to schedule their inoculation against the virus

Parks Canada and Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Parks dig the washed up Princess M out from sand along the south shore of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. (Nora O’Malley photo)
Rescue attempt costs man his boat off Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Coast Guard response questioned after volunteer responder’s speedboat capsizes in heavy swells

Al Kowalko shows off the province’s first electric school bus, running kids to three elementary and two secondary schools on the West Shore. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C.’s first electric school bus making the rounds in Victoria suburbs

No emissions, no fuel costs and less maintenance will offset the $750K upfront expense

Road sign on Highway 1 west of Hope warns drivers of COVID-19 essential travel road checks on the highways into the B.C. Interior. (Jessica Peters/Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. residents want travel checks at Alberta border, MLA says

Police road checks in place at highways out of Vancouver area

Victoria police say the photo they circulated of an alleged cat thief was actually a woman taking her own cat to the vet. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Photo of suspected cat thief released by Victoria police actually just woman with her pet

Police learned the she didn’t steal Penelope the cat, and was actually taking her cat to the vet

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Most Read