Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Giant Virus Revealed in 3-D Using X-ray Laser


Experiment Compiles Hundreds of Images, Reveals Inner Details of Intact ‘Mimivirus’

For the first time, researchers have produced a 3-D image revealing part of the inner structure of an intact, infectious virus, using a unique X-ray laser at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. The virus, called Mimivirus, is in a curious class of “giant viruses” discovered just over a decade ago.

Uppsala University

This computerized rendering shows a cutaway view of a collection of about 200 X-ray patterns, produced in an experiment at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser. The images were combined to produce a 3-D rendering of an intact Mimivirus, a giant virus that was at first mislabeled as a bacterium because of its size.

Uppsala University

This rendering shows a 3-D reconstruction of a Mimivirus, based on an analysis of data obtained in an experiment at SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source X-ray laser that show the electron density of an intact Mimivirus, a type of giant virus. The blue regions represent the areas of highest density.

The experiment at SLAC’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), a DOE Office of Science User Facility, establishes a new technique for reconstructing the 3-D structure of many types of biological samples from a series of X-ray laser snapshots.

“Ever since I started in this field of X-ray laser research, this has always been the dream – to acquire 3-D images of real biological samples,” said Tomas Ekeberg, a biophysicist at Uppsala University in Sweden and lead author of the study, published March 2 in Physical Review Letters. “This is fantastic – it’s a breakthrough in our research.”

Mysterious World of Giant Viruses

Mimivirus is so big – its volume is thousands of times larger than the smallest viruses and even larger than some bacteria – that it was misclassified as a bacterium until 2003. Subsequent discoveries have found other giant viruses, some of which are even larger.

Mimivirus is also genetically complex, with nearly 1,000 major genes compared to only a handful in the HIV virus.

Scientists have been trying to determine the inner structure of these giant viruses to learn more about their origins: For example, did they borrow genes over time from the host organisms they infect, like amoebas? Did they precede cell-based life or devolve from cell-based organisms?

Light Pattern Portrait

In the LCLS experiment, researchers sprayed a gas-propelled aerosol containing active Mimivirus samples in a thin stream into the X-ray laser beam, which scattered off the viruses and produced light patterns on a detector that were recorded as diffraction images.

Researchers customized sophisticated analysis software developed at Cornell University to compile hundreds of individual images from separate virus particles into a single 3-D portrait showing the general shape and inner features of Mimivirus. Each image captured a projection of a separate virus particle at a random orientation, so the collection of images of viruses in different orientations provided a more complete, 3-D view.

While the technique used at LCLS did not provide high-resolution details of the internal virus structure, it did confirm that its contents are lopsided, with an area that appears more densely concentrated.

“We can see quite clearly that the inside of these viruses is not uniform,” Ekeberg said.

This same general feature had also been seen before using an electron-based imaging technique with frozen samples, and LCLS allows studies of viruses and other biological samples in a more natural, intact state. Researchers said that LCLS shows promise for achieving sharper images that reveal more inner details in the future because of the uniquely intense, penetrating power of its X-rays.

3-D Vision for X-ray Laser Studies

The same technique was recently used to study bacterial cell structures. LCLS managers have launched an initiative with the scientific community to improve techniques for imaging intact, biological particles that are difficult to study.

Janos Hajdu, a professor of biophysics at Uppsala and a pioneer in biological particle imaging with X-ray lasers, said the research team plans to apply the 3-D imaging technique to other types of samples and to improve the image quality. He said, “The next Holy Grail is to study large, single proteins at LCLS.”

Participants in the research included scientists from SLAC’s LCLS, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Kansas State University; Uppsala University in Sweden; Aix Marseille University and CEA-Saclay in France; the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science at DESY, University of Hamburg in Germany, PNSensor GmbH, Max Planck Institute’s Semiconductor Laboratory, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany, and the European XFEL in Germany; National University of Singapore; and The University of Melbourne in Australia. The work was supported by the Swedish Research Council, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the European Research Council, the Röntgen-Ångström Cluster, and Stiftelsen Olle Engkvist Byggmästare.

SLAC is a multi-program laboratory exploring frontier questions in photon science, astrophysics, particle physics and accelerator research. Located in Menlo Park, Calif., SLAC is operated by Stanford University for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more information, please visit

SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit

Andrew Gordon | newswise

Further reports about: 3-D Accelerator Germany Giant LCLS Laser SLAC Virus X-ray biological samples technique viruses

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>