Research on the genome of the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has revealed an unusual molecular structure that looks like a promising target for antiviral drugs. A team of scientists at the University of California, Santa Cruz, has determined the three-dimensional shape of this structure, an intricately twisted and folded segment of RNA. Their findings suggest that it may help the virus hijack the protein-building machinery of infected cells.
The SARS virus is a type of RNA virus, meaning that its genetic material is RNA rather than the more familiar DNA found in the chromosomes of everything from bacteria to humans. All RNA viruses have relatively high mutation rates, making their genomes highly variable. In HIV, for example, this high rate of mutation contributes to the rapid appearance of drug-resistant strains of the virus. In SARS and related viruses, however, one segment of the RNA genome--known as the s2m RNA--remains virtually unchanged.
"Because viral evolution has not been able to tamper with this sequence, it is clear that it must be of vital importance to the viruses that have it, but no one knows exactly what its function is," said William Scott, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UC Santa Cruz.
Tim Stephens | EurekAlert!
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