That Important Mutation

Nana Dadzie Ghansah
6 min readDec 21, 2020

By Nana Dadzie Ghansah

From Yonfei Cai et al. Science. Vol. 369, Issue 6511, pp. 1586–1592

The scientific work that laid the foundation for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines is impressive. There has been a lot of talk about the use of mRNAs, lipid nanoparticles, and viral vectors. However, one notable and vital technology has made it all possible, and unfortunately, it is not getting much press.

It is a story that stars Barney Graham, deputy director of the Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and his staff, Jason McLellan, a researcher who was once a postdoc at the NIAID and later moved to Dartmouth and then to the University of Texas, and researchers from Scripps in San Diego.

So what is this technology? It is called the 2P mutation.

We see it in the description of the Moderna vaccine:

“The mRNA-1273 vaccine…encodes a stabilized version of the SARS-CoV-2 full-length spike glycoprotein trimer, S-2P, which has been modified to include two proline substitutions at the top of the central helix in the S2 subunit” (N Engl J Med 2020; 383:1920–1931).

To understand it, let’s look at how viruses enter the human cell.

All viruses use specially-structured proteins to enter human cells. So coronaviruses use the spike protein (S), influenza hemagglutinin (H)…



Nana Dadzie Ghansah

An anesthesiologist, photographer, writer, and poet. He lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky.