Coronavirus as a teaching tool: Structural Biology students learn from latest COVID-19 research

As the world deals with the current outbreak of the coronavirus known as COVID-19, students at Ursinus College investigate the virus as part of their course in Structural Biology. “By bringing the latest research on the structure of COVID-19 into the class, students can begin to understand a bit about the function of the virus,” says Dr. Rebecca Roberts who teaches the course.

Since the first day of the semester she has been highlighting COVID-19 research related to the course topic of structural biology. Structural biology is the study of how the shape of biomolecules is related to their function. For example, a structure of a protein on the surface of the virus that is central to the ability of the virus to infect human cells was recently solved by a group at the University of Texas at Austin and the National Institutes of Health. They used a technique called cryo-electron microscopy to determine the shape of this protein. Dr. Roberts says, “Using this paper as the jumping-off point allows students in the class to learn not only about the technique used, but also about the importance of rapid science in times when humanity calls for information and understanding.”