Pictured are images of Epsilon 15, a virus that infects the bacterium Salmonella. From the left-side cross section of the viral particles interior, obtained with an advanced magnifier called a cryo-electron microscope, a team including Purdue structural biologist Wen Jiang was able to generate the right-side computer graphic highlighting the salient features of the virus. Scientists have had difficulty resolving the internal features of viruses with non-symmetric components such as Epsilon 15, but Jiangs team made improvements to the computer software used to process the electron microscopy images, an advance that should make many other such viruses available for medical researchers to study. (Graphic courtesy of Nature magazine/Jiang Laboratories)
Insight into the workings of previously inscrutable viruses has been made possible by a team of biologists whose improvements to computer software may one day contribute to the fight against viral disease.
With a few deft lines of computer code, Purdue University’s Wen Jiang and his research group have created a powerful new tool for lab research that should allow scientists to obtain high-resolution images of some of the world’s smallest biological entities — the viruses. Too minuscule to be usefully observed with many conventional imaging devices, viruses’ internal structures must often be viewed with microscopes that require sophisticated computer control to make sense of the tiny objects. Advances in the field often come to those who can create the best custom software, and Jiang’s team has done just that, opening up for observation a group of viruses that scientists previously could not get a bead on.
As the team reports in the cover article of this week’s (Feb. 2) edition of Nature, the researchers have used their methods to examine one such virus that attacks bacteria.
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