The detailed changes in the structure of a virus as it infects an E. coli bacterium have been observed for the first time, report researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UT Health) Medical School this week in Science Express.
To infect a cell, a virus must be able to first find a suitable cell and then eject its genetic material into its host. This robot-like process has been observed in a virus called T7 and visualized by Ian Molineux, professor of biology at The University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues.
The researchers show that when searching for its prey, the virus briefly extends — like feelers — one or two of six ultra-thin fibers it normally keeps folded at the base of its head.
Once a suitable host has been located, the virus behaves a bit like a planetary rover, extending these fibers to walk randomly across the surface of the cell and find an optimal site for infection.
At the preferred infection site, the virus goes through a major change in structure in which it ejects some of its proteins through the bacterium's cell membrane, creating a path for the virus's genetic material to enter the host.
After the viral DNA has been ejected, the protein path collapses and the infected cell membrane reseals.
"Although many of these details are specific to T7," said Molineux, "the overall process completely changes our understanding of how a virus infects a cell."
For example, the researchers now know that most of the fibers are usually bound to the virus head rather than extended, as was previously thought. That those fibers are in a dynamic equilibrium between bound and extended states is also new.
Molineux said that the idea that phages "walk" over the cell surface was previously proposed, but their paper provides the first experimental evidence that this is the case.
This is also the first time that scientists have made actual images showing how the virus's tail extends into the host — the very action that allows it to infect a cell with its DNA."I first hypothesized that T7 made an extended tail more than 10 years ago," said Molineux, "but this is the first irrefutable experimental evidence for the idea and provides the first images of what it looks like."
The researchers used a combination of genetics and cryo-electron tomography to image the infection process. Cryo-electron tomography is a process similar to a CT scan, but it is scaled to study objects with a diameter a thousandth the thickness of a human hair.
University of Texas at Austin: http://www.utexas.edu
This press release was posted to serve as a topic for discussion. Please comment below. We try our best to only post press releases that are associated with peer reviewed scientific literature. Critical discussions of the research are appreciated. If you need help finding a link to the original article, please contact us on twitter or via e-mail.
Apeel Sciences hopes its products, which use natural methods to fend off pests and oxidization, can markedly reduce the amount of produce wasted because of spoilage.
Francis Halzen’s amazing experiment heralds the beginning of a new era in astronomy
First direct detection of dark matter, thought to make up most of the matter in the universe, would be a historic breakthrough
Geologists, climate scientists, ecologists and a lawyer gather in Berlin for talks on whether to rename age of human lifeHumanitys terrifying impact on Earth justifies new Anthropocene epoch
This month in Italy, three judges have a chance to undo the Kafkaesque nightmare that has ensnared some of the country’s top scientists for almost five years. So far it looks doubtful they will. In 2012, seven scientists and engineers were convicted of manslaughter for things they said and did not say in the days
Turkey's eternal fires have remained burning for thousands of years but now the source of the methane that fuels them has been found
Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.
But the hotspot predates the use of hydraulic fracking in the region, putting renewed attention on how older forms of natural gas production contribute to global climate change
A complicated technique used on LHC data for the first time has revealed two new particles, one of which has a combination of properties never seen before
Traditional method of insect harvesting is revived as cochineal insects are once-again valued for their brilliant red pigment