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Sometimes no result is good result for science


Sometimes finding out what doesn’t matter in science is just as important as finding what does.

That’s the case for a study that looked at the function of the viral protein, MTase1. Researchers found that the rate of virus replication in tissue culture was not affected when MTase1 was removed.

The finding is important as researchers look for what proteins are essential and how they function in cells, potentially providing answers to everything from insect control to the control of human diseases such as smallpox.

"How do viruses replicate? When there is an infection, one virus gets into one cell, and makes the cell synthesize viral proteins and viral DNA instead of what the cell needs to survive," said Dr. Linda Guarino, a Texas Agricultural Experiment Station biochemist and entomologist whose research with graduate student Xiaofeng Wu appears in this month’s Journal of Virology. "So, we want to understand how the virus manages to take over cells and force them to make more virus.

"We have to characterize the functions of individual viral proteins and how they interact with cellular proteins to understand this process," she noted.

Guarino and Wu studied MTase1 (methyltransferase) in the polyhedrosis virus of Autographa californica, a common moth species whose caterpillar feeds on alfalfa, sugar beets, tobacco and tomato crops. The insect has played an important role in research on viruses and their use as an environmentally friendly means of pest control, since the polyhedrosis virus was originally isolated from its larvae more than 30 years ago.

"MTase1 is structurally similar to a protein that poxvirus makes, and also in the poxvirus, it is non essential," Guarino said. "So, we know the virus makes proteins that are not essential when tested in a lab. However, we only studied replication in tissue culture, which is not the natural setting for replication. It might be essential in animals, so that will need to be researched as well."

She said the goal is to find out what proteins are essential, what they need to make RNA, and what their functions are.

Kathleen Phillips | Texas A&M University
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