Viruses do not carry out their own metabolism and cannot reproduce on their own. It depends entirely on the host cell. They hijack cellular machinery, use it to create new viruses and release them to infect other cells.
The genetic material of the virus is protected by a capsid. The Swedish-American team wanted to better understand the reasons for its launch and how the process works. Already in 2014, the Swedes published an article in which they stated that something might happen to the genetic material of the virus at a temperature of about 37 degrees Celsius. “As we raised the temperature, the more rigid the viral DNA became. Suddenly, at the temperature at which infection occurred, something happened. It was as if there was no DNA left in the virion, and all the rigidity was gone,” says Professor Alex Illevich. .
The article attracted the attention of the scientific community, but conducting such research is difficult and requires, among other things, the right tools. — It is not easy to monitor the virus's DNA. It's a delicate material that's difficult to image, and phages are very small, about ten times smaller than a bacterial cell. However, thanks to the help of the NIST synchrotron and a private grant, we were able to use neutrons to image the structure and density of phage DNA and examine how it changes at different temperatures, Illevich adds.
Scientists have proven that ambient temperature is one of the most important factors that determine the moment of capsid opening, DNA release and infection. They also learned that changing the structure of DNA is directly related to how effectively the virus infects a cell.
— Thanks to this, we better understand how quickly genetic material exits the capsid and enters the cell, and this knowledge may be useful during research on “turning on” and “turning off” viruses, and thus when developing new antiviral agents. Our research may also be important for work on packaging nucleic acids for gene therapies, Iveljevic says.
The discoverers do not rule out that the results of their research may indicate that the higher the body temperature, the greater the risk of infection. — The structure and mechanical properties of genetic material change at a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. We also noticed that high temperature affects the rate of spread of the virus. However, our research was performed in vitro on cell cultures. The researchers say more research is needed to take into account other factors that influence the development of infection, such as the immune system's reaction.
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