An Aston University researcher has created the first computer reconstruction of a virus, including its complete native genome.
Although other researchers have created similar reconstructions, this is the first to replicate the exact three-dimensional, chemical structure of a ‘living’ virus.
The breakthrough could open the way for research into an alternative to antibiotics, reducing the threat of antibacterial resistance.
The investigation Reconstruction and Validation of Whole Genome Virus Model from Mixed-Resolution Density Cryo-MS by Dr. Dmitry Nerukh, from the Department of Mathematics in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Aston University is published in the journal Faraday discussions.
The research was conducted using existing data of virus structures measured via cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and computational modeling that took nearly three years despite using supercomputers in the UK and Japan.
The breakthrough will open the way for biologists to investigate biological processes that currently cannot be fully examined because the genome is missing from the virus model.
This includes finding out how a bacteriophage, which is a type of virus that infects bacteria, kills a specific disease-causing bacterium.
It is not known at the moment how this happens, but this new method of creating more accurate models will open up further research into the use of bacteriophages to kill specific, life-threatening bacteria.
This could lead to more targeted treatment of diseases currently treated with antibiotics and thus help address the growing threat to humans of antibiotic resistance.
Dr Nerukh said: “Until now, no one else has been able to build a native genome model of a whole virus at such a detailed (atomistic) level.
“The ability to study the genome within a virus with greater clarity is incredibly important. Without the genome it has been impossible to know exactly how a bacteriophage infects a bacterium.
“This development will now allow virologists to help answer questions they couldn’t answer before.
“This could lead to targeted treatments to kill bacteria that are dangerous to humans and to reduce the global problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is becoming increasingly serious over time.”
The team approach to modeling has many other potential applications. One of these is creating computational reconstructions to aid cryoelectron microscopy, a technique used to examine life forms chilled to extreme temperatures.