The Hormel Institute Publishes COVID-19 Research to Aid Virus Control

Dr. Bin Liu used Cryo-EM technology to study structures of SARS-CoV-2 proofreading machine

July 27, 2021 – AUSTIN, Minn. – Dr. Bin Liu, Assistant Professor and leader of the Transcription and Gene Regulation lab at The Hormel Institute, published discoveries regarding SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 has infected approximately 200 million people and led to more than 4 million deaths worldwide.

“This research is of broad importance to combat various emerging and re-emerging coronaviruses and will also aid in the development of effective anti-coronavirus drugs,” said Dr. Liu, who joined The Hormel Institute in 2018 from Yale University.

The article “Structural basis of mismatch recognition by a SARS-CoV-2 proofreading enzyme” was published in Science (2021). It is a collaboration between Dr. Liu and Dr. Yang Yang at Iowa State University and Dr. Chang Liu at Yale University.

The study utilized cryo-electron microscopy (CryoEM), a Titan Krios considered one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes, to study the structures of COVID-19 viral RNA proofreading machine (ExoN complex) to understand how ExoN is responsible for improving the fidelity of coronavirus RNA synthesis by removing mis-incorporated nucleotides, and how it recognizes and excises nucleotide analog inhibitors incorporated into the nascent RNA, undermining the effectiveness of first-line nucleotide analog-based antivirals. Dr. Liu plans to further study how SARS-CoV-2 replicates and transcribes RNA with the goal of developing improved anti-coronavirus therapies.

“We believe our studies will be of broad interest to scientists in the fields of coronavirus, cryo-electron microscopy, replication/transcription and mismatch correction,” said Dr. Liu.

Thanks to the support of The Hormel Foundation, The Hormel Institute’s CryoEM was added as part of the 2016 expansion. It is one of the world’s most powerful electron microscopes and in Minnesota, this microscope expertise is only found at The Hormel Institute.  It allows HI’s cryoEM team of scientists (structural biologists) to see the structure of some of the smallest parts of our bodies – down to the near-atomic level.

Full paper is accessible at: