Bringing Structure to Bear on RNA Viruses: School of Biology Scientists Provide New Insight on Viral Packing

Yingying Zeng, a graduate student in the School of Biology, is the lead author on a new paper that describes the complete structure of satellite tobacco mosaic virus (STMV). This is the first model for the structure of any virus that specifies the position of every single atom. Zeng combined high-resolution data from x-ray crystallography, chemical data on the structure of the RNA genome, and knowledge-based molecular modeling methods to develop her model. STMV is a small virus that has served for many years as a model system for investigating the relationships between viral structure and function. The new model has implications for understanding the pathway of viral assembly. These methods can be extended to investigate the structures of human viral pathogens and, in the long run, to the design of novel drugs aimed at inhibiting viral assembly.

This was a collaborative effort headed by Steve Harvey (School of Biology), and it included contributions from Christine Heitsch (School of Mathematics) as well as Steven Larson and Alexander McPherson (University of California, Irvine). The paper appeared in the October issue of the Journal of Structural Biology.

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