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Coronavirus In Seattle
caption: A rendering by UW Medicine researchers of the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein . 
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A rendering by UW Medicine researchers of the structure of the SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein .

What coronavirus' shape-shifting structure tells us about the disease, and how to fight it

Scientists at the University of Washington have a better picture of the coronavirus — literally. The images help them understand the mechanism of the infection and help in designing a vaccine.

Ask Lexi Walls, a UW postdoctoral fellow, what the coronavirus looks like up close and she’ll tell you, “Broccoli, like a head of a broccoli.”

Washington state health officials are preparing for possible coronavirus spread

Walls and Young-Jun Park are part of a UW research team that’s studying the virus. Using cryo-electron microscopy, they learned about the virus’ architecture; it has spikes.

Dr. David Veesler, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the UW School of Medicine, says the spikes change in shape as it invades a cell.

“It changes shape to be able to attach to the host cell surface,” Veesler said.

Once it latches onto the cell, it becomes a gateway for infections to start.

“Because we know what it looks like, the goal is to take this knowledge forward and to design better vaccines,” Walls said.

There are still many more steps before a vaccine is available in the market, but this is the first step in developing one.

To date there are 19 confirmed cases of infection in the U.S.

Globally, more than 82,000 people have been infected.