COVID-19 News

How WRAIR, Argonne labs use x-ray crystallography to study COVID-19

"There isn't much nice to say about SARS-CoV-2, HIV or the common flu virus — but they all do make a fascinating picture. Those images, seen on TV, in newspapers and on the web are produced by researchers like Dr. Gordon Joyce to help other researchers better develop the vaccines that will eventually destroy the viruses.

"Our group at WRAIR [the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research] are experts using X-ray crystallography, and that's what we've used to capture images of the SARS-CoV-2 target," said Joyce, an employee of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, which supports the WRAIR Emerging Infectious Disease Branch through a cooperative agreement. "This is like getting a high-resolution satellite image of your target. With that information you can best design your attack," Joyce said.

For that, he explained, researchers at his lab grow protein crystals of a virus — just portions of the virus — and then cool those crystals using liquid nitrogen. Those crystals are sent off to Argonne National Laboratory in Lamont, Illinois, where they'll be bombarded with X-rays along a beamline inside the Advanced Photon Source, which is a particular kind of particle accelerator called a synchrotron.

The scattering of X-rays by the crystal can be measured to determine the atomic structure of whatever is being evaluated, Joyce said.

"From that diffraction pattern," he said, "we use a set of mathematical formulas to actually convert back to the atomic detail that we need for many things — for vaccine design, for therapeutics design and for diagnostic information."

Read the whole DoD News article here.