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Biochemistry professor publishes two SARS-CoV-2 research articles

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Posted on Monday, February 27, 2023

Dr. Patrick Lackey, assistant professor of chemistry at Westminster College, recently published two articles focused on SARS-CoV-2 virus research.

“Structural, Dynamical, and Entropic Differences between SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 s2m Elements Using Molecular Dynamics Simulations” was the cover article in the January 2023 issue of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) journal ACS Physical Chemistry.

Published in collaboration with the research groups of Dr. Jeffrey Evanseck and Dr. Rita Mihailescu of Duquesne University, the article presents the group’s study to understand what the function of the s2m motif may be in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 has a structural element in its genome called the s2m motif, which currently has an unknown function. The study used computational simulations to study the differences in the s2m motif in SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV, the virus that caused the first SARS outbreak in the early 2000s.

The cover illustration used for the journal’s January issue was created by Adam Kensinger, one of Evanseck’s Ph.D. students. The paper acknowledges the contributions of Westminster biochemistry majors Morgan Shine '21, Nicole Mackenstein '22 and Izayah Bojanac ’23.

To view the article, click here.

“Bioinformatics Analysis of the s2m Mutations Within the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Lineages,” co-authored by Shine for the work she accomplished as a Westminster undergraduate, was published as a peer-reviewed letter to the editor in the Journal of Medical Virology’s January 2023 issue. It was also published in collaboration with Evanseck and Mihailescu.

This article again studies the s2m motif by tracking its changes across the different strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The study specifically identifies a significant difference in the s2m motif in the Omicron variants of the virus.

“Morgan’s contribution to the paper was really important,” Lackey said of Shine’s involvement. “We used an automated script to align over a million viral sequences and she wrote the first version of the script.”

Shine, who was an honors student at Westminster, is currently in her second year at Yale University where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry. She is originally from Greenville, Pa.

To view the article, click here.

Lackey joined Westminster’s faculty in 2016. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Duquesne University and a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Mackenstein, originally from Ellwood City, Pa., is currently in her first year of West Virginia University’s Ph.D. Biomedical Sciences Program.

Bojanac is a senior Westminster honors student and biochemistry major from Harrisburg. He plans to attend law school following graduation from Westminster.