UWM Biophysics Faculty Awarded Multiple Coronavirus SARS-CoV2 Grants

UWM Biophysics Faculty Awarded Multiple Coronavirus SARS-CoV2 Grants
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold, researchers across the globe are doing vital work to help understand the virus responsible, novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2. Researchers here in Milwaukee are doing their part: multiple faculty members in the Department of Physics have been awarded research grants to study aspects of the virus from a physical standpoint to better understand how it functions.

Machine Learning and Viral Structure
Distinguished Professor Abbas Ourmazd and his research group utilize advanced machine learning techniques to study the functionally important structural changes in proteins and viruses. His research group recently received an EAGER grant from the National Science Foundation to study the structure of of key SARS-CoV2 proteins. There is mounting evidence that viral proteins exist in a range of conformations, and that a subset of these can play a vital role in their function. A deep understanding of the nature and role of functionally relevant structural heterogeneity would revolutionize our knowledge of SARS-CoV2 function. Such insights can substantially impact the development of antidotes and vaccines. Having recently developed a powerful suite of geometric machine learning techniques, they are uniquely positioned to determine the structural and conformational landscape of SARS-CoV2 proteins, with and without antibody involvement.

Viral Protease and XFELs
Professor Marius Schmidt and his lab specialize in the study of molecular interactions using XFELs – X-ray free electron lasers. His lab was recently awarded an NSF-RAPID grant to address fundamental questions how the SARS coronavirus-2 (CoV-2) proliferates. CoV-2 enzymes catalyze essential reactions for the assembly of infectious particles. If the enzymes are blocked, the virus cannot assemble, and its spread is effectively suppressed. The goal is to characterize reactions of CoV-2 main enzymes at ambient temperatures with X-ray structures. This research takes advantage of opportunities at X-ray Free Electron Lasers (XFELs) such as the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Menlo Park, CA. XFELs are the strongest X-ray sources in the world that make it possible to capture molecular reaction intermediates at near atomic resolution within biologically relevant temperatures and time scales. The unique opportunities at XFELs will advance the understanding the proliferation of the virus and contribute to the elimination of the pandemic. This project will involve UWM graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who will be trained in newest data collection and data analysis methods at XFELs.