Because the Flock House virus
(FHV) does not infect humans – it prefers insects – yet is related to other RNA non-enveloped viruses
that do, it's a safe alternative for investigating how such viruses enter cells, commandeer their machinery, and wreak havoc. Through extensive molecular and genetic investigations of FHV scientists have generated highly detailed data – enough to enable powerful computer simulations of the virus that provide yet further insights into its antics. This video, for example, shows a simulation of the virus inside an endosome
– a cellular entry compartment, a bit like a foyer. To gain access to the main part of the cell, the virus must hack its way through the endosome membrane with a 'molecular knife' – the tiny yellow protein wiggling out of centre of the virus. Such accurate modelling of the process is invaluable for clarifying how such viruses get in, and also how to stop them.
Written by Ruth Williams
Ruth is a freelance science journalist based in the US. She's a regular correspondent for The Scientist, and her work has appeared in The Lancet, Nature, Scientific American Mind, BBC Focus and elsewhere. Twitter @rooph