Mutations – changes in the genetic material of an organism – can occur spontaneously or can be caused by external influences. Some give the organism advantages. In the case of virus mutations, this can sometimes have a direct impact on infection and transmission as well as the effectiveness of vaccines. Like the research center Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology (acib), researchers have been researching mutations of SARS-CoV-2 with the partners bioinformatics company Innophore and the University of Graz for around a year.
The constantly changing viruses make new automated detection processes necessary, which show which mutation has the best chance of prevailing. With this lead, one could develop preventive drugs that most efficiently counter the changes in the genetic material of the viruses, explained Christian Gruber, CEO of the biotech start-up Innophore, opposite the APA. The spin-off from acib and Uni Graz has already developed a search engine over the past few years that can use artificial intelligence and big data to filter enzymes and active ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry from thousands of structural data in databases.
Like weather forecast
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Graz researchers have been using enormous computing power to observe the changes and spread of the virus and its mutations using the more than half a million sequencing of CoV genomes. “Based on the sequencing that is now increasingly being carried out globally, we can use AI and modeling methods to virtually calculate different scenarios. By comparing our data with clinical and laboratory observations, we can further improve the predictive models. This will enable us to predict mutations such as the weather – and not just react to them, ”said Gruber optimistically.
“We see a number of mutations emerging and have currently discovered even less common, structurally conspicuous mutations that bind more strongly to human cell receptors and could thus become highly relevant. Mutations such as the two specific ones at the site Serine 477, with which, according to current figures, more than 27,000 people worldwide have become infected, must definitely be kept in mind, ”said Gruber. “We are not virologists, but we can see that something is changing and you have to be careful,” he assessed the situation. The German biotech company Biontech got the latest findings that are currently in the specialist magazine „Scientific Reports“ have already appeared, which has already led to a mention.
“Such results represent a huge opportunity for all vaccine manufacturers, as these models help the industry to prepare and develop vaccine lines that could also cushion unknown and possibly more dangerous mutations,” said Gruber. The aim of the Graz researchers is to work with the major vaccine manufacturers to gain control over epidemics at an earlier stage. According to the researchers, there is no doubt that epidemics will continue to accompany our lives