Plush toys depicting the common cold virus. Photo by Hillary

By Aishwarya Vedula, age 12

The common cold is a short-lasting, but potentially debilitating illness that affects millions of people in the United States every year. There’s no cure for the cold as it is caused by various viruses that use human cells to reproduce and live. However, scientists have now identified a key protein that some viruses need to replicate inside human cells.

According to an article published in the September 2019 issue of Nature Microbiology, scientists conducted a number of tests that showed that the viruses repeatedly fished out a protein known as SETD3, a protein that helps muscles contract.

Using a gene editing tool called CRISPR—like DNA scissors—to snip out chunks of DNA from lab grown human cells, each missing the gene to make the protein SETD3, the researchers then injected genetically engineered mice lacking this gene with the various cold viruses, and, as hypothesized, the mice never developed the common cold. However, other scientists who did not conduct this research suggested that taking away this gene altogether may have unexpected side effects, so perhaps it’s better to come up with a way to block this protein, when it is interacting with the viruses, but not eliminate it.

Glossary:

Hypothesizeda concept that is not yet verified but that if true would explain certain facts or phenomena