A way in

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

As children in Scotland, back home from school and when the weather was dry, we would fling our schoolbags into the hall and grab a few golf clubs, a ball and a tee. There was no need for a change of clothes or shoes, whatever we were wearing was good enough. The course was along the coast on the edge of the North Sea, and the balls we used were found in the dunes where they had been lost by more experienced players. We had four clubs - a driver, two irons and a putter. Putting was the best part of the game. You would aim carefully for the long slim rod with the little red flag, taking into account the odd clump of grass or small mounds on the green and then, holding your breath, watch the little white ball as it made its meandering way to the base of the rod to drop, almost as an afterthought, into the hole. Well... it so happens that viruses infect cells in a similar manner... Viruses need to get inside cells in order to multiply, and this is what brings on infection. Like the flagged pole that marked the way in for our golf ball, viruses recognise molecules on the surface of cells to which they bind, thus enabling them - or parts of them - to enter the host cells where they rapidly spread. The coronavirus which is wreaking havoc across the planet as I write these words, is able to recognise a protein on the surface of a variety of human cells known as angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2.

Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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