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).


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