Researchers from the University of Purdue was the first one in 2016, managed to capture the structure of the zika virus.
Using cryoelectron microscopy (cryo-electron microscopy, cryo-EM), they got the image of a virus with a resolution of 3.8 Angstrom. 1 Angstrom -10^-10 meters, this unit is traditionally used for expressing the size of viruses, molecules and other microscopic objects. And recently, improving used cryo-EM technology, the researchers took a picture with a resolution of 3.1 angstroms, which allowed more accurately determine the atomic structure of the virus and to detect a kind of “pockets” in its surface, which can be used in the design and manufacture of the vaccine.
“This is the most accurate the virus that we have today,” says Professor Michael Rossman (Michael Rossmann), – “Data from this snapshot will allow us to design more effective antiviral drugs and vaccines that will use the most vulnerable places the virus”.
To obtain a new high-quality picture, the researchers used new methods of preliminary preparation of viral material and new methods of processing of obtained data. The thing is that the technology of cryo-EM allows to obtain a kind of electronic potential map in which the data are interpreted properly and on the basis of this is the atomic model. And of course, that the quality of software depends on the quality of the model built on the map.
Note that the zika virus belongs to the family of flavivirus that is carried by mosquitoes and ticks. The researchers compared the structure of zika virus with other known flavivirus, such as Dengue, West Nile and Japanese Encephalitis, which have very similar structure, but cause different symptoms in the disease.
“We compared the properties and characteristics of surfaces of all known viruses of this family,” says Madhu Sevan (Madhu Sevvana), one of the researchers, “We were able to detect certain structural differences, which will be a starting point for further studies of mutations of the virus and searching an effective method of fight against this dangerous disease.”
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