First computer reconstruction of a virus in its biological entirety

An Aston University researcher has created the first-ever computer reconstruction of a virus, including its full native genome.

Although other researchers have created similar reconstructions, this is the first to reproduce the exact chemical and 3D structure of a “living” virus.

This breakthrough could pave the way for the search for an alternative to antibiotics, reducing the threat of antibacterial resistance.

The research Reconstruction and validation of a whole virus model with a complete genome from mixed-resolution cryo-EM density by Dr Dmitry Nerukh, from the Department of Mathematics, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, University of Aston is published in the journal Faraday talks.

The research was carried out using existing data on viral structures measured by cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and computer modeling which took almost three years to complete despite the use of supercomputers in the UK and in Japan.

This breakthrough will pave the way for biologists to study biological processes that currently cannot be fully examined because the genome is missing from the viral model.

This includes finding out how a bacteriophage, which is a type of virus that infects bacteria, kills a specific bacterial pathogen.

At this time, it’s unclear how this happens, but this new method of creating more accurate models will open up new research into using bacteriophages to kill specific life-threatening bacteria.

This could lead to more targeted treatment of diseases that are currently treated with antibiotics, and thus help combat the growing threat to humans posed by antibiotic resistance.

Dr Nerukh said: “Until now, no one else has been able to build a native genome model of an entire virus at such a detailed (atomic) level.

“The ability to more clearly study the genome of a virus is extremely important. Without the genome, it has been impossible to know exactly how a bacteriophage infects a bacterium.

“This development will now help virologists answer questions they could not answer before.

“This could lead to targeted treatments to kill bacteria dangerous to humans and reduce the global problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria which is becoming increasingly serious over time. »

The team’s approach to modeling has many other potential applications. One of them is creating computer reconstructions to aid cryo-electron microscopy – a technique used to examine life forms cooled to extreme temperatures.

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