9 Sep 2021

An app for understanding SARS-CoV-2 spike protein mutations

An interactive web-based application, the SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Mutation Explorer, has been developed to help explain reports on SARS-CoV-2 mutations and variants generated by COG-UK for a non-expert audience.

The app is designed to provide additional context for the COG-UK Mutation Explorer (COG-UK/ME), an interface that provides access to data on SARS-CoV-2 mutations, variants of interest and variants of concern in the COG-UK genome sequence dataset, particularly those in the viral spike protein.

COG-UK/ME is targeted at an expert audience, but given the emergence of new variants, the general public and media are increasingly interested in understanding how the mutations it reports affect the properties of SARS-CoV-2 and the effectiveness of vaccines.

With this in mind, Sarah Iannucci, a biomedical artist, created an interactive web application  as part of her MSc in Medical Visualisation and Human Anatomy at the Glasgow School of Art and University of Glasgow. The SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein Mutation Explorer allows non-expert users to visualise and better understand mutations reported through the COG-UK/ME interface.

The application features an interactive 3D model of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, in which regions of interest (such as the receptor-binding domain, shown below) can be highlighted, with associated information panels explaining what they do and why mutations at these locations can affect the behaviour of the virus.

Users can also view images of variants of concern and their characteristic mutations, as well as detailed animations showing how the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 binds to new host cells, is neutralised by antibodies, and why mutations in particular parts of the spike can alter the spread of the virus and the effectiveness of vaccines.


Try the app for yourself HERE on the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research (CVR) website.



This application was developed by Sarah Iannucci using data from the COG-UK/Mutation Explorer team (Derek W. Wright, Joseph Hughes, William Harvey, MacGregor Cox, Rachel Colquhoun, Ben Jackson, Andrew Rambaut, Thomas Peacock, David L. Robertson and Alessandro M. Carabelli), with virology advice from the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research (Ed Hutchinson, Joseph Hughes, William Harvey and David L. Robertson) and technical advice from the School of Simulation and Visualisation at the Glasgow School of Art (Matthieu Poyade).


About the University of Glasgow

As one of the top 100 of the world’s universities, we deliver world-class, world-changing research and education with impact. We are a member of the prestigious Russel Group of leading UK Universities with annual research income of more than £179m.  We’re currently investing £1 billion in our estate to create spaces and opportunities that will allow us to remain at the forefront of change excellence and innovation.



COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK)

The COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) consortium works in partnership to harness the power of SARS-CoV-2 genomics in the fight against COVID-19.

Led by Professor Sharon Peacock of the University of Cambridge, COG-UK is made up of an innovative collaboration of NHS organisations, the four public health agencies of the UK, the Wellcome Sanger Institute and sixteen academic partners. A full list of collaborators can be found here.

The COVID-19 pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, represents a major threat to health. The COG-UK consortium was formed in March 2020 to deliver SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis to inform public health policy and to support the establishment of a national pathogen sequencing service, with sequence data now predominantly generated by the Wellcome Sanger Institute and the Public Health Agencies.

SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing and analysis plays a key role in the COVID-19 public health response by enabling the identification, tracking and analysis of variants of concern, and by informing the design of vaccines and therapeutics. COG-UK works collaboratively to deliver world-class research on pathogen sequencing and analysis, maximise the value of genomic data by ensuring fair access and data linkage, and provide a training programme to enable equity in global sequencing.