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How does BESSY II contribute to the research on SARS-CoV-2?

BESSY II provides important insights into SARS-CoV-2

The picture shows the photon source BESSY II in Berlin-Adlershof from above.

At the X-ray light source BESSY II at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB), a team led by Prof. Dr. Rolf Hilgenfeld (University of Lübeck), has decoded the three-dimensional structure of an important enzyme of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. This enzyme is the main viral protease involved in the replication of the virus. Since then, the 3D architecture of this main protease has been deciphered. This allows the search for suitable active substances to be narrowed down considerably.

Suitable active substances must fit like a "key in a lock" (in the active centre of the protease) and dock at specific positions in the target molecule so that they impede its function (in this case: replication of the virus). > Read more here (news piece)

Fragment screening: an effective method to find binding hits for drugs

Fragment screening is a popular approach to identify the binding of small organic molecules (fragments) to protein targets.
The scientists examine hundreds of small molecular substances and understand which of them bind to a protease. A challenging task, as the surface structure of proteins is complex and it is difficult to find the fitting molecules that prevent their function. With the fragment screening, thousands of possible keys are tested virtually until the "lock pick" is found and can penetrate the protease.

BESSY II research (media and events)

Berlin Science Week, Manfred Weiss' talk

10.11.2020 Berlin Science Week From Protein to medecine (hzb youtube channel)

Proteins are the building blocks of life. In his talk Manfred Weiss (group leader of the joint research group macromolecular crystallography) explains how protein crystallography can help in the development of active substances against diseases.


SARS-CoV-2 research at HZB.

26.6.2020 Helmholtz Association:
Using X-ray imagines to study the virus

Medical and biochemical laboratories are not the only places where research on the new coronavirus is taking place. Particle accelerators are also contributing to decoding SARS-CoV-2 and identifying promising substances for effective medications.

Figure: ARD Mittagsmagazin Das Erste (ARD): The search for the corona drug

20.05.2020 Mittagsmagazin Das Erste (national TV broadcast, in german):  Die Suche nach dem Corona-Medikament

The search for a drug against COVID-19


15.05.2020 Article in nature: The sprint to solve coronavirus protein structures - and disarm them with drugs

Stopping the pandemic could rely on breakneck efforts to visualize SARS-CoV-2 proteins and use them to design drugs and vaccines.

rbb in the protein crystallography of the HZB

4.05.2020 - Regional broadcast (rbb)
Researchers use the particle accelerator BESSY II to search for an active substance.
Video available online until 11.05.2020


14.04.2020 - Radio broadcast (Deutschlandfunk, in german): Shutdown für Teilchenbeschleuniger
Shutdown for particle accelerators

Picture for the rbb video "Active ingredient research at BESSY II"

1.04.2020 - Regional broadcast (rbb, in german): BESSY II research related on SARS-CoV-2
Online until 8.04.2020



23.03.2020 Helmholtz Association: Blueprint for an active substance against the novel coronavirus

Researchers working at the BESSY II X-ray source have decoded the three-dimensional structure of one of the major proteins of the novel coronavirus. Manfred Weiss from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin explains how this could speed up the search for a drug to treat the disease caused by the virus.

Welt der Physik

20.03.2020 Welt der Physik (article in german): Das erleichtert die Suche nach passenden Wirkstoffen

"This facilitates the search for suitable active substance" – interview with Manfred Weiss (group leader at the Joint Research Group Macromolecular Crystallography at BESSY II)


NDR Video

13.03.2020 - TV broadcast NDR (in german) : Neuer Wirkstoff aus Lübeck soll gegen Coronavirus helfen

New substance from Lübeck to help against coronavirus

Networks on SARS-CoV-2 research

Researchers all over the world are working on active substances against the corona virus. The HZB is part of the following research initiatives:

As Germany's largest research organization, the Helmholtz Association makes important contributions to overcoming the corona crisis through top-level research, please find here their SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus topic page.

The European operators of synchrotron sources and free electron lasers (FEL) have joined forces in the strategic initiative called LEAPS (League of European Accelerator-based Photon Sources). Mid-May LEAPS has published the brochure: Research at LEAPS facilities fighting COVID-19

BESSY II is also member of the international collaboration Ligthsources.org, where communicators from synchrontons and FELs put all their effort together creating “one voice for brightest science”. They collate all the results on COVID-19 related research here: Lightsource research on SARS-CoV-2.

Latest news about research at BESSY II

Please find here the latest news on research done at BESSY II related to SARS-CoV-2.

Scientific publications (BESSY II research)

Linlin Zhang; Daizong Lin; Xinyuanyuan Sun; Ute Curth;  Christian Drosten; Lucie Sauerhering; Stephan Becker; Katharina Rox; Rolf Hilgenfeld: Crystal structure of SARS-CoV-2 main protease provides a basis for design of improved α-ketoamide inhibitors, Science 20 Mar 2020: eabb3405
doi: 10.1126/science.abb3405
Lei, J.; Hansen, G.; Nitsche, C.; Klein, C.D.; Zhang, L.; Hilgenfeld, R.: Crystal structure of Zika virus NS2B-NS3 protease in complex with a boronate inhibitor , Science 353 (2016), p. 503-505
doi: 10.1126/science.aag2419
Lei, J.; Hilgenfeld, R.: Structural and mutational analysis of the interaction between the Middle-East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) papain-like protease and human ubiquitin. , Virologica Sinica 31 (2016), p. 288-299
doi: 10.1007/s12250-016-3742-4