Improving SARS-CoV-2 structures: Peer review by early coordinate release

Biophys J. 2021 Mar 16;120(6):1085-1096. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2020.12.029. Epub 2021 Jan 16.


This work builds upon the record-breaking speed and generous immediate release of new experimental three-dimensional structures of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) proteins and complexes, which are crucial to downstream vaccine and drug development. We have surveyed those structures to catch the occasional errors that could be significant for those important uses and for which we were able to provide demonstrably higher-accuracy corrections. This process relied on new validation and correction methods such as CaBLAM and ISOLDE, which are not yet in routine use. We found such important and correctable problems in seven early SARS-CoV-2 structures. Two of the structures were soon superseded by new higher-resolution data, confirming our proposed changes. For the other five, we emailed the depositors a documented and illustrated report and encouraged them to make the model corrections themselves and use the new option at the worldwide Protein Data Bank for depositors to re-version their coordinates without changing the Protein Data Bank code. This quickly and easily makes the better-accuracy coordinates available to anyone who examines or downloads their structure, even before formal publication. The changes have involved sequence misalignments, incorrect RNA conformations near a bound inhibitor, incorrect metal ligands, and cis-trans or peptide flips that prevent good contact at interaction sites. These improvements have propagated into nearly all related structures done afterward. This process constitutes a new form of highly rigorous peer review, which is actually faster and more strict than standard publication review because it has access to coordinates and maps; journal peer review would also be strengthened by such access.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Monophosphate / analogs & derivatives
  • Adenosine Monophosphate / chemistry
  • Adenosine Monophosphate / pharmacology
  • Alanine / analogs & derivatives
  • Alanine / chemistry
  • Alanine / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Catalytic Domain
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Models, Molecular
  • Nucleocapsid / chemistry
  • Peer Review*
  • Phosphoproteins / chemistry
  • RNA-Binding Proteins / chemistry
  • SARS-CoV-2 / chemistry*
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / chemistry
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus / metabolism
  • Zinc / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Viral
  • Phosphoproteins
  • RNA-Binding Proteins
  • Spike Glycoprotein, Coronavirus
  • spike protein, SARS-CoV-2
  • remdesivir
  • Adenosine Monophosphate
  • DNA-Directed RNA Polymerases
  • Zinc
  • Alanine