Research on SARS-CoV-2 at DESY light sources

DESY Corona research - news and further activities

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Research on SARS-CoV-2 at other facilities and further information

DESY is contributing to the worldwide intensive research for fighting the current Coronavirus disease pandemic.

The virus SARS-CoV-2, as it was named by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is causing the infectious COVID-19 disease. Coronaviruses (CoV) belong to a large family of viruses responsible for illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases.

Although many information has been gained in the last time during the outbreak of the COVID-19 disease in December 2019, currently no proven therapeutics, vaccines or simple rapid diagnostic tests are available. To fill these knowledge gaps and to accelerate corresponding developments in science and innovation, a worldwide research effort is required in order to reduce or even to control the disease.

Therefore, DESY and other national and international research institutions offer fast track access for scientific users from academia or industry to perform research related to the fight of the COVID-19 pandemic at their light sources and facilities.

First investigations have already started at the light source PETRA III (Fast track access) and further will follow.

Please find below the list of research activities since March 2020:

PETRA III Beamline P11

Experimental set-up for the screening of samples at the PETRA III beamline P11. (Photo: M. Mayer, DESY)

Drug screenings | Macromolecular crystallography at PETRA III

The research team from Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME), Univ. Hamburg, Univ. Lübeck, Bernhard-Nocht-Institut (BNITM) and DESY performs experiments  at the PETRA III beamlines P11 and P13-P14 (both EMBL) and focuses on the three key proteins of the pathogen as possible drug targets. Over 5600 active substances werde provided by Fraunhofer IME. About 5770 samples with nearly 3900 different active compounds were already screened until 23 April 2020, whereof 13 substances were identified which bind to a viral protein.

Coordination: Alke Meents (DESY)


Setup P03 at PETRA III

Typical setup at the PETRA III beamline P03 for in situ X-ray scattering experiments of virostatic drug delivery. Inset: Determined structure of drugs in codrugs. (Source and further information).

Mechanisms of Antiviral Medication | In-situ X-ray scattering at PETRA III

The research team from KTH Stockholm and DESY investigates various low-dose drug delivery options for local, antiviral medication of drugs with severe medical side effects (and which therefore require careful dosing). Modern Lambda Medipix-based detectors are used at the PETRA III beamline P03 essential for high-speed and high-resolution investigations, at the same time greatly enlarging the q-range.The studied drugs include selected examples of the SOLIDARITY project launched by the WHO recently against SARS-CoV-2.

Coordination: Simone Techert and Stephan Roth (DESY)


 Lung tissue

3d virtual histology of lung tissue (size about 4x4x4 mm3) effected by severe causes of the Covid19 disease (Copyright: T. Salditt, Uni. Göttingen).

3d virtual histology of lung tissue affected by severe causes of COVID-19 | X-ray phase contrast tomography at PETRA III

The research team from University of Göttingen, Medizinische Hochschule Hannover and DESY investigates the histo-pathology of human lung autopsies affected by severe causes of COVID-19 disease. By X-ray phase contrast tomography, conventional pathology can be extended to a third dimension which makes it possible to track small capillaries and alveoli walls in three dimensions as well as to locate and quantify sparse structures in larger reconstruction volumes. To this end lung volumes of about 4x4x4 mm3 are scanned in overview scans with 650 nm voxel size, followed by zoom tomography in regions of interest scanned at voxel sizes around 150 nm at the GINIX holo-tomography endstation of PETRA III beamline P10. Significant structural alterations of the tissue due to the Covid-19 disease is revealed by the scans (Publication / Further information).

Coordination: Tim Salditt (Univ. of Göttingen), in collaboration with Mark Kühnel and Denny Jonigk (Hannover Medical School)