High-resolution snapshots of a virus attacking its host – which have culminated in a movie of the process – could reveal secrets of viral infection and improve gene therapy techniques, according to a Purdue University research group.
artists conception of the T4 virus
Structural biologists including Michael G. Rossmann have obtained clearer pictures of how the T4 virus, long known to infect E. coli bacteria, alters its shape as it prepares to pierce its hosts cell membrane. The complicated infection process requires a flower-like section of the virus, known as the baseplate, to shape-shift by dramatically changing the configuration of the numerous proteins that form it. The team has taken cryoelectron microscope images of the baseplate from different moments in the process and transformed them into a brief animated movie, helping scientists understand how infection occurs and possibly enabling them to apply this knowledge for the benefit of human patients in the future.
"Instead of a still photo of the baseplate, we now have a movie of it opening," said Rossmann, who is Henley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences in Purdues School of Science. "A better understanding of the infection process is a step forward for fundamental science, but it also could allow scientists to alter the baseplate so that the virus could infect cells other than E. coli. T4 might then be used to deliver beneficial genes to damaged or infected human tissue."
Michael Rossmann | EurekAlert!
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