A new discovery could help scientists understand how viruses can hitch a ride on cellular systems. The findings help scientists uncover how viruses can adjust their genetic makeup to avoid being detected by our detectors.

The research team from The Netherlands Institute of Evolutionary Biology (NIEB) analyzed how genes and protein structures in five different strains of the deadly coronavirus that cause diseases called Alberts disease. The researchers used an advanced microscope to study the virus proteins and their interactions. Their method enabled them to characterize protein structures that had not previously been observed in any strain of the virus and also explored other proteins that were not previously understood to interact with viruses.

The scientists report that they infected rodents with the virus. By analyzing the virus protein structure the researchers were able to elucidate protein interactions that the virus can use to evade the cells immune systems. Furthermore the researchers found that volatile organic compounds that are able to react with the virus proteins evolved progressively in their interaction with them. This suggests that these compounds may become vectors for the infection.

Because many viruses have been isolated from their hosts this research study is an important step in understanding the ability of viruses to hitch a ride with our cells to infect other animals. Understanding interactions between viral and host proteins that allow viruses to produce antiviral toxins could help scientists design more effective vaccines. And because viruses including the COVID-19 often evade the cells immune system it might be more difficult to develop effective vaccines.