Invited Talk:                          SGK_Flack2021_AndreaThorn.jpg

"The Coronavirus Structural Taskforce"

Dr. Andrea Thorn

Thursday 18 February 2021, 16:00 

Zoom lecture: register here

As crystallographic and Cryo-EM methods developers in structural biology, we usually work far from the spotlight. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, we asked ourselves how we could contribute to the fight against the virus?

As early as February, we started evaluating the structures of macromolecules in SARS-CoV and later SARS-VoV-2 available from the Protein Data Bank and found many could be improved. We set up a website ( and a database containing our evaluation and revised models; met online every day, working on an automatic structure evaluation and revising individual structures. We also engaged in outreach activities, writing blog posts about the structural biology of SARS-CoV-2 aimed at both the scientific community and the general public, refining structures live on Twitch and offering a 3D printable virus model for schools.
In the beginning, there were no tenured academics in the Coronavirus Structural Task Force [1]; we were an ad hoc collaboration of mostly junior researchers across nine time zones, brought together by the desire to fight the pandemic. We lacked management experience, computing facilities and administrative infrastructure. Still, we were able to rapidly establish a large network of COVID-19 related research, forge friendships and collaborations across national boundaries, spread knowledge about the structural biology of the virus and provide improved models for in-silico drug discovery projects. We may have gotten into the spotlight after all.

[1] Croll, T., Diederichs, K., Fischer, F., Fyfe, C., Gao, Y., Horrell, S., Joseph, A. P., Kandler, L., Kippes, O., Kirsten, F., Müller, K., Nolte, K., Payne, A., Reeves, M. G., Richardson, J., Santoni, G., Stäb, S., Tronrud, D., Williams, C. & Thorn, A. (2020). BioRxiv. doi:10.1101/2020.10.07.307546.


Dr. Andrea Thorn studied Molecular Life Sciences at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg and obtained a PhD in 2011 from the University of Göttingen (D) on the topic "Practical approaches to macromolecular X-ray structure determination" in George Sheldrick’s group. Focusing on methods development in crystallography, she worked as a research associate in Randy Read’s lab at the University of Cambridge (UK) before starting her own independent work as Marie-Curie fellow at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, where she expanded her work into electron cryo microscopy. As senior researcher at the Diamond Light Source & University of Oxford, she developed the diffraction data analysis software AUSPEX. Upon her return to Germany, she started to include AI-based methods into her tools, becoming a junior group leader at the University of Würzburg in 2019. She now works as a group leader at the Institute of Nanostructures and Solid State Physics at the University of Hamburg and is the leader of the “Coronavirus Structural Task Force”.