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

Pictured above is a BCEHS re-enactment of paramedics attending an overdose. Toxic illicit drugs have claimed the lives of 498 British Columbians in the first three months of 2021, said the BC Coroners Service. (BCEHS photo)
Increase in overdose cases a concern: Fort St. James RCMP

Police issue public health announcement

Jim Woodruff from the Vanderhoof Curling Club has won volunteer of the year by Curl BC. (Photo submitted)
Jim Woodruff awarded Curl BC Volunteer of the Year

“It really is fun making nice ice.”

A groundbreaking ceremony for Cluculz Lake’s new fire hall will take place Tuesday, June 22. The current fire hall is able to only store one apparatus. (Photo submitted)
New fire hall on the way for Cluculz Lake

Approximate $950,000 facility anticipated to be completed by this fall

A cell tower is pictured in rural Ontario on Wednesday, July 15, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)
Connected future for Saik’uz First Nation

Cellular tower to be constructed by Telus within the community

Nechako River. (Aman Parhar/Omineca Express)
So far so good, but officials keeping tabs on Nechako River streamflow

Vanderhoof Mayor said typically if there is flooding, it occurs toward the end of May and early June

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Keith MacIntyre - BC Libertarian
Penticton’s Keith MacIntyre new leader of the B.C. Libertarian Party

The Penticton businessman was voted in by members of the party on May 8

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a 'person of interest' in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
Man sought in suspicious Kootenay death found in Lake Country

Philip Toner is a person of interest in the death of Brenda Ware

Vernon North Okanagan RCMP reported to 287 mental health calls between Jan. 1, 2021, and May 1. (Black Press files)
‘It’s not the police’s responsibility to deal with mental health calls’: Vernon RCMP

RCMP remind public to take care of mental health and well-being, while better solutions are sought

Thompson Rivers University campus is in Kamloops, B.C. (KTW file photo)
Thompson Rivers the 1st B.C. university to supply free menstrual products

The university will offer the products this September

Fraser Health is using ‘targeted’ vaccination clinics in high-risk areas of the Lower Mainland. (Fraser Health photo)
B.C.’s COVID-19 decrease continues, 515 new cases Tuesday

426 seriously ill people in hospital, up from 415 Monday

The site of Sunfest, Laketown Ranch, will be open for camping this summer. (Citizen file)
Sunfest country music bash won’t be shining on B.C. in 2021

Annual Vancouver Island Festival cancelled due to COVID-19, along with Laketown Shakedown

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation elected chief councillor Moses Martin, who was also Chantel Moore’s grandfather, speaks to media in Port Alberni on Aug. 16, 2020, during a visit from NDP leader Jagmeet Singh following the police shooting of Chantel Moore. (Elena Rardon photo)
Mother of 2 shot by police in critical condition, says B.C. First Nation chief

Community ‘devastated’ by third member of 1,150-person Vancouver Island nation shot in less than a year

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham promotes the government’s BuyBC food program in 2019. (B.C. government)
Money running out for fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in B.C. schools

‘Looking at ways to support this type of program,’ minister says

Most Read