Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Computer Virus
05 February 2015

Computer Virus

Viruses like pox and herpes are crafty parasites. Unable to replicate on their own, they pump their DNA into infected cells, and use their host’s replication machinery to do the job for them. This computer model of a viral particle, or virion, is reconstructed from hundreds of images of cryogenically-preserved particles, made possible with a technique called electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM). Ten million-times smaller than a tomato-shaped ketchup bottle, the virion uses a 'nozzle' (highlighted in grey) to squeeze its DNA (multi-coloured inner circles, right) out into host cells. Newly-produced virions use similar channels to suck up copies of the viral DNA, ready to infect other cells. Using cryo-EM to highlight architectural details in virions – shown from the front (left) and sliced open from above (right) – provides clues about how infections spread, and may influence therapies to intervene at crucial stages in the virus’ life cycle.

Written by John Ankers

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