Scientists at Rutgers University have revealed the structure of a virus infecting bacteria that thrive in 160-degree hot springs in places like Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.
According to a recent study by Rutgers and other scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the discovery could enhance targeted drug delivery and new DNA sequencing technology.
The scientists have been examining a virus that infects bacteria (Thermus thermophilus) taken from a hot spring in Kamchatka, Russia.
In a statement, study co-author Konstantin Severinov said: “We literally go ‘hunting’ for these viruses and bacteria they infect in hot springs in the United States, Chile, Russia, Italy and other countries.” Severinov is a principal investigator at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
Viruses that infect bacteria have a protein shell that forms a “head” shaped like a polyhedron with 20 triangular faces. Inside the head, the virus’s DNA is packaged very tightly – almost as dense as a crystal – and under great pressure. When a virus binds to a cell that it infects, the pressure is released through a small hole, or portal, in the virus head. Then viral DNA is rapidly injected into the cell.
In the course of infection, empty virus heads form inside a cell and then are filled with viral DNA through the portal using a special viral “packaging machine,” he said. The study showed how DNA could be packed into the head in a test tube.