The research project is aimed at understanding how the N-protein of the SARS-CoV-2 performs its essential functions in viral infection and transmission. Elucidating the structure and properties of N-protein can open novel avenues of drug design to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and add new tools to the repertoire of anti-viral therapeutic strategies. The broader impact plan is to inform and educate the younger generation about the science of virus transmission and prevention using social media activities such as Skype a Scientist and TikTok videos.
The viral genome nucleocapsid phosphoprotein N plays critical roles in multiple processes of the infection cycle: N-protein protects and packages viral RNA in nucleocapsid assembly, interacts with the inner domain of spike protein in virion assembly, binds to structural membrane protein M during virion packaging and maturation, and binds to proteases causing replication of infective virus particles. The goals of the project are to determine the structure and dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 N protein using high resolution techniques such as NMR, identify structural features of viral packaging using protein:RNA cross linking and bioinformatic analyses, and determine the effect of phosphorylation of N on its structure, its interactions with other proteins and its role as an RNA chaperone. This comprehensive approach to N-protein structure-function will enable development of innovative methods to block SARS-CoV-2 at different stages of its life cycle.
This EAGER award is made by the Genetic Mechanisms Program in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.