Surprise COVID Discovery by Peter Kasson, PhD and Team Helps Explain How Coronaviruses Jump Species

August 11, 2023 by

Unexpected new insights into how COVID-19 infects cells may help explain why coronaviruses are so good at jumping from species to species and will help scientists better predict how COVID-19 will evolve.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been much discussion of how COVID-19 infiltrates cells by hijacking a protein called ACE2 found on human cells. But the new research from the University of Virginia School of Medicine reveals that ACE2 isn’t required for infection. Instead, the virus has other means it can use to infect cells.

That versatility suggests that coronaviruses can use multiple “doors” to enter cells, potentially explaining how they are so good at infecting different species.

Peter Kasson, MD, PhD

Photo credit: Markus Marcetic

“The virus that causes COVID-19 uses ACE2 as the front door to infect cells, but we’ve found that if the front door is blocked, it can also use the back door or the windows,” said researcher Peter Kasson, MD, PhD, of UVA’s Departments of Molecular Physiology and Biomedical Engineering. “This means the virus can keep spreading as it infects a new species until it adapts to use a particular species’ front door. So we have to watch out for new viruses doing the same thing to infect us.”

Read full press release in the UVA Health newsroom. 

Filed Under: Faculty, Research