Bottom-up synthetic virions as a tool to study SARS-CoV-2 infectivity

Processes and Methods (incl. Screening) : Life Sciences-HTS/HCS
Processes and Methods (incl. Screening) : Large Scale Production
Nucleic Acid-, Protein and Cell-related Technologies : Protein related

Ref.-No.: 0105-6291-IKF

COVID-19 presents a major threat to human health and its pathogenesis is not yet completely understood. The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been found to be highly mutagenic, which limits well-controlled studies of its infectivity and enforces high biosafety working environments.


Scientists from the Max-Planck-Institute for Medical Research developed the bottom-up synthesis of synthetic virions consisting of small unilamellar vesicles (SUVs) with a lipid composition that resembles that of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The lipidic membrane contains NTA-Ni2+ functionalized lipids and can be, therefore, decorated with a Histidine-tagged SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein creating synthetic minimal virions (MiniVs). Consistent with SARS-CoV-2 virions, vesicles present a size and zeta potential comparable to the natural virus. MiniVs are modular, adaptive systems that allow quantitative and flexible assessment of different Spike-variants while controlling the composition and biophysical properties of the virus-mimicking particles. Most important, MiniVs can be precisely programmed and deployed under biosafety level 1 conditions.

We are now looking for a collaboration partner to further develop this exciting project.


Patent Information

A European priority establishing patent application was submitted in August 2021.


  • Staufer, O. et al. (2022). Synthetic virions reveal fatty acid-coupled adaptive immunogenicity of SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein. Nature Communications, accepted for publication
  • Gupta, K. et al. (2022) Structural insights in cell-type specific evolution of intra-host diversity by SARS-CoV-2. Nature Communications, 13(222)
  • Toelzer, C. et a. (2020) Free fatty acid binding pocket in the locked structure of SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. Science, 370(6517)

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