Scientists find how Covid-19 tricks its way into the human body

Scientists find how Covid-19 tricks its way into the human body

The virus that causes Covid-19 acts like a "wolf in sheep's clothing" by using sugars to trick its way into the human body, according to new research.

Scientists at the University of Southampton have created a model of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19 which reveals how it disguises itself to enter human cells undetected.

But they found that the virus is not as heavily protected as some others such as HIV.

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Medical staff from Jilin Province (in red) hug nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows illuminated buildings in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Chen Min/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Cheng Min via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows an illuminated bridge in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Cheng Min/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Cheng Min via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Passengers prepare to board train K81 at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Fei Maohua/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Fei Maohua via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Aerial photo taken on April 8, 2020 shows cars passing an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Shen Bohan via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020 .Cars prepare to pass an expressway toll station in western Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Shen Bohan/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Shen Bohan via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 8, 2020.A staff member removes barricades near an expressway toll station in northern Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, April 8, 2020. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
Passengers wearing protective gear walk at the Tianhe Airport after it was reopened, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff member from Jilin Province tears up during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Medical staff from Jilin Province (in red) hug nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak during a ceremony before leaving as Tianhe Airport is reopened in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
People wearing face masks arrive at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan to take one of the first trains leaving the city in China's central Hubei province early on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of relieved citizens streamed out of China's Wuhan on April 8 after authorities lifted months of lockdown at the coronavirus epicentre, offering some hope to the world despite record deaths in Europe and the United States. (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP) (Photo by NOEL CELIS/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
This aerial photo taken early on April 8, 2020 shows cars queueing at a highway toll station in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province, as they prepare to leave the city after authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan early on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
A medical staff member from Jilin Province (C) cries while hugging nurses from Wuhan after working together during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan during a ceremony at the Tianhe Airport after it was reopened today, in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on April 8, 2020. - Thousands of Chinese travellers rushed to leave COVID-19 coronavirus-ravaged Wuhan on April 8 as authorities lifted a more than two-month prohibition on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A train employee wearing a face mask is seen at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, on one of the first trains leaving the city from China's central Hubei province early on April 8, 2020. - Chinese authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
A worker wearing a protective suit waits to control the temperature of passengers at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, in China's central Hubei province, early on April 8, 2020. - Chinese authorities lifted a more than two-month ban on outbound travel from the city where the global pandemic first emerged. (Photo by Hector RETAMAL / AFP) (Photo by HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 .Passengers cheer up for Wuhan while waiting to take train K81 at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, late April 7, 2020. The train K81, which started from Xi'an of northwest China's Shaanxi Province and is heading for Guangzhou in south China's Guangdong Province, made a stop to pick up 442 passengers at Wuchang Railway Station in Wuhan early Wednesday, the first one since the city lifted its outbound travel restrictions. (Photo by Fei Maohua/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Fei Maohua via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020.Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows a night view in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 . Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows a night view in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
WUHAN, April 7, 2020 . Aerial photo taken on April 7, 2020 shows the illuminated Yellow Crane Tower, or Huanghelou, a landmark of the city of Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province. Wuhan, the megacity in central China, started lifting outbound travel restrictions from Wednesday after almost 11 weeks of lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19. (Photo by Xiao Yijiu/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Xiao Yijiu via Getty Images)
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The team, led by Professor Max Crispin, say the model will provide "crucial and encouraging" information for scientists creating a vaccine.

Prof Crispin explained that the Sars-CoV-2 virus has a large number of spikes sticking out of its surface which it uses to attach to and enter cells in the human body.

These spikes are coated in sugars, known as glycans, which disguise their viral proteins and help them evade the body's immune system.

The model of the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes Covid-19 (University of Southampton/PA)

Prof Crispin said: "By coating themselves in sugars, viruses are like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

"But one of the key findings of our study is that despite how many sugars there are, this coronavirus is not as highly shielded as some other viruses.

"Viruses like HIV, which hang around in one host, have to evade the immune system constantly and they have a really dense coat of glycans as a shield to the immune system.

"But in the case of the coronavirus the lower shielding by sugars attached to it may reflect that it is a 'hit and run' virus, moving from one person to the next.

"However, the lower glycan density means there are fewer obstacles for the immune system to neutralise the virus with antibodies. So this is a very encouraging message for vaccine development."

The research was carried out using equipment previously provided by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation through the Collaboration for AIDS Vaccine Discovery.

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