Imagine a virus and its cellular target as two spacecraft – the virus sporting a tiny docking bay that allows it to invade its victim. Purdue University researchers have taken a close-up picture of one virus docking bay, work that could have implications for both medicine and nanotechnology.
This is a close-up image of the T4 virus baseplate, which the virus uses to attach itself to its E. coli bacterium host. The 16 types of proteins that form the baseplate are color-coded. More than 150 total protein molecules make up the baseplate, a complex molecular machine that changes configuration when it bonds with the E. coli cell membrane. Further analysis of the baseplate could lead to advances in both medicine and nanotechnology. (Graphic/Purdue University Department of Biology)
Shown is an image of the T4 virus studied by Michael Rossmanns group. The virus carries its genetic material in the head section, then injects it into the E. coli bacterium through its tail after the baseplate attaches itself to the cell membrane. (Graphic/Purdue University Department of Biology
Using advanced imaging techniques, an international team of biologists led by Michael Rossmann of Purdue, Vadim Mesyanzhinov in Moscow and Fumio Arisaka at the Tokyo Institute of Technology has analyzed the structure of part of the T4 virus, which commonly infects E. coli bacteria. The part they analyzed, called the baseplate, is a complex structure made of 16 types of proteins that allows T4 to attach itself to the surface of E. coli in order to inject its own deadly genetic material. Their work has produced the clearest picture ever obtained of the baseplate, which plays a critical role in the initial stages of viral infection.
"We now have a fairly complete picture of the baseplate, the part of the virus that latches onto its cellular victim," said Rossmann, who is Hanley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences in Purdues School of Science. "Armed with this knowledge, we should obtain a better understanding of how this virus injects its genetic material into its host. It could be the key to stopping the process – or even harnessing it to benefit humanity."
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