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Indian scientists develop virucidal coating to prevent COVID-19 transmission

A team of researchers at the Faridabad-based Regional Centre for Biotechnology (RCB) has initiated a study to engineer virucidal coatings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The team, led by Dr Avinash Bajaj, has expertise in the engineering of antimicrobial molecules that can target the membranes of microorganisms selectively.

Here, the group will be extending their expertise on developing the molecules that will target the membranes of COVID-19 viral particles selectively. These molecules will then be used for the engineering of different surfaces like glass, plastic and textiles including cotton, nylon, and polyester to provide a virucidal coating that can potentially inhibit viral transmission.

Another group of scientists at the Centre are working to develop a highly sensitive and specific, rapid, point-of-care, low-resource-requiring, colourimetric, and cost-effective test for COVID-19 detection.

In an effort to help fight the pandemic, another research group led by Prof Deepak T. Nair at the Centre is trying to find out how to inhibit the activity of a protein called nsp12 protein that houses the RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity responsible for the duplication of the RNA genome of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The team is conducting the study in collaboration with Dr Milan Surjit from Translational Health Science and Technology Institute (THSTI) and Dr Samrat Mukhopadhay from Department of Textile Technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

A press release noted that the group has used computational tools to build a homology model of the three-dimensional structure of the nsp12 protein. The model was then used to identify possible inhibitors of the nsp12 protein.

The studies predict that the methylcobalamin form of Vitamin B12 may bind to the active site of the nsp12 protein and inhibit its activity.  The group is now seeking to carry out further experiments to validate this hypothesis. If found effective, methylcobalamin may be immediately be deployed in the field since it is already a part of many drug formulations.

The group has also initiated efforts to purify the nsp12 protein to develop high throughput plate assays that can be used to identify different inhibitors of the protein. These inhibitors will serve as lead molecules for the development of novel drugs against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Apart from this, efforts are underway to identify possible inhibitors of two other proteins from the SARS-CoV-2 virus using computational tools. These include nsp14, which has a methyltransferase and exoribonuclease activity and nsp13, which has an RNA helicase activity.

The available genome sequences of SARS-CoV-2 are also being analysed to identify regions in the genome which may be structured and can be targeted using a small molecule to perturb translation or replication of the genome.

According to the release, noting that intense efforts are ongoing to identify possible inhibitors of the SARS-CoV-2 life cycle, the scientists pointed out that the availability of live virus to carry out experiments that can validate the computational studies will considerably bolster the efforts at RCB to unearth a drug for the ongoing pandemic.

RCB is an institution established by the Department of Biotechnology, under the auspices of UNESCO.

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