WPI Professor and Students Create 3D Models of Coronavirus

Professor Dmitry Korkin and his students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute hope their efforts to map out the coronavirus can help scientists treat the illness.

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A Worcester Polytechnic Institute professor and his team of PhD students have created a series of 3D computer models of the deadly coronavirus in the hopes that their research can be used as a kind of road map to lead to a treatment or prevention of the illness in humans.

"In order to understand how things function, how the virus functions, you actually need to understand what are the key components that are hidden inside this genome," said Professor Dmitry Korkin, a bioinformatics researcher at WPI.

Korkin challenged eight of his PhD students to a hackathon of sorts, to work together to map out the proteins of the coronavirus.

"Hopefully, that will help the experimental scientists to streamline their work," said Korkin.

Working essentially around the clock, it took them just 10 days.

"This is one of several dozen models that WPI is making available to the research community worldwide," Korkin said.

For several of these PhD students, this work is personal.

"One of my best friends, her whole family was in Wuhan," said WPI PhD student Ziyang Gao.

"I have friends that live and work in Wuhan, and it pains me to see my fellow Chinese people struggle to fight this disease," added another WPI PhD student, Hong Zhu.

They say if scientists are able to use their work to develop a vaccine or anti-viral drug, they would be elated.

"Getting into this project feels like finally, I can help, help them a little," Gao said.

The team at WPI is far from done. Next, they plan to examine how this virus evolves as it jumps from one population to another.

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