Synthetic Platforms for Characterizing and Targeting of SARS-CoV-2 Genome Capping Enzymes

Marya Y. Ornelas, Angela Y. Thomas, L. Idalee Johnson Rosas, Riley O. Scoville, Angad P. Mehta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Essential viral enzymes have been successfully targeted to combat the diseases caused by emerging pathogenic RNA viruses (e.g., viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase). Because of the conserved nature of such viral enzymes, therapeutics targeting these enzymes have the potential to be repurposed to combat emerging diseases, e.g., remdesivir, which was initially developed as a potential Ebola treatment, then was repurposed for COVID-19. Our efforts described in this study target another essential and highly conserved, but relatively less explored, step in RNA virus translation and replication, i.e., capping of the viral RNA genome. The viral genome cap structure disguises the genome of most RNA viruses to resemble the mRNA cap structure of their host and is essential for viral translation, propagation, and immune evasion. Here, we developed a synthetic, phenotypic yeast-based complementation platform (YeRC0M) for molecular characterization and targeting of SARS-CoV-2 genome-encoded RNA cap-0 (guanine-N7)-methyltransferase (N7-MTase) enzyme (nsp14). In YeRC0M, the lack of yeast mRNA capping N7-MTase in yeast, which is an essential gene in yeast, is complemented by the expression of functional viral N7-MTase or its variants. Using YeRC0M, we first identified important protein domains and amino acid residues that are essential for SARS-CoV-2 nsp14 N7-MTase activity. We also expanded YeRC0M to include key nsp14 variants observed in emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 (e.g., delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 encodes nsp14 A394V and nsp14 P46L). We also combined YeRC0M with directed evolution to identify attenuation mutations in SARS-CoV-2 nsp14. Because of the high sequence similarity of nsp14 in emerging coronaviruses, these observations could have implications on live attenuated vaccine development strategies. These data taken together reveal key domains in SARS-CoV-2 nsp14 that can be targeted for therapeutic strategies. We also anticipate that these readily tractable phenotypic platforms can also be used for the identification of inhibitors of viral RNA capping enzymes as antivirals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3759-3771
Number of pages13
JournalACS synthetic biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 18 2022


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • attenuation
  • phenotypic platforms
  • variants
  • viral RNA capping enzymes
  • yeast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (miscellaneous)
  • Biomedical Engineering


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