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

Interfor’s Castlegar mill is getting $35 million in upgrades. Photo by: John Boivin
Interfor to invest $35 million at Castlegar mill

Project will enhance productivity and competitiveness

A medical worker prepares vials of the COVID-19 vaccines, Chinese Sinopharm, left, Sputnik V, center, and Pfizer at a vaccine centre, in the Usce shopping mall in Belgrade, Serbia, Thursday, May 6, 2021. Serbian authorities are looking for incentives for people to boost vaccination that has slowed down in recent weeks amid widespread anti-vaccination and conspiracy theories in the Balkan nation. The government has also promised a payment of around 25 euros to everyone who gets vaccinated by the end of May. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
38 new COVID-19 cases, more than 335k vaccines administered in Interior Health

Interior Health also to start targeted vaccinations in high transmission neighbourhoods

FILE PHOTO
Second doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available, as AstraZeneca supply runs low: Interior Health

Province expecting large volumes of Pfizer BioNTech as age-based cohort immunization program ramps up

Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton, the historians behind popular Facebook page Lost Kootenays, are set to release a book of the same name and have just unveiled its cover showing the ghostly Hotel in Slocan City shortly before its 1953 demolition. Photo courtesy of Greg Nesteroff and Eric Brighton.
Popular historical Facebook page Lost Kootenays set to release book

128-page hard copy documenting history of East and West Kootenays coming this fall

Paul Chung is working as an early childhood educator at Cornerstone Children’s Centre in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Police were on the scene of a fatal shooting in Abbotsford. (Black Press Media files)
B.C. government to give more than $8 million for programs to curb gang violence

221 not-for-profit projects led by local governments and school districts among others will receive a one-time grant

Gord Judson steers his log truck down a forest service road, using two-way radio and call signals to mark his position for oncoming traffic. (B.C. Forest Safety Council)
Planning some B.C. wilderness fishing? Don’t catch a log truck

Remote recreation areas bracing for heavy pandemic pressure

Most Read