New research has found that viruses have a remarkable biological ability – they can transform their DNA from a glassy solid into a fluid-like state to help them infect cells.A fluorescence image of viral DNA complexes in the cytoplasm of a cell. Although viruses infect our cells with their DNA all the time, it’s a process that scientists have so far struggled to understand – viral DNA is so tightly packed inside its protein shell that, technically, it can barely move. But despite the lack of wiggle room, viruses somehow manage to inject their DNA into host cells at high speed all the time. Now scientists from the US may have found the answer.
Two new studies, both led by Alex Evilevitch from Carnegie Mellon University and published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Nature Chemical Biology, show that, when the conditions are right, viruses are capable of covering their frozen and highly pressurised DNA into a liquid that can invade host cells.
The breakthrough could help scientists to create new antiviral drugs. “The exciting part of this is that the physical properties of packaged DNA play a very important role in the spread of a viral infection, and those properties are universal,” said Evilevitch in a press release. “This could lead to a therapy that isn’t linked to the virus’ gene sequence or protein structure, which would make developing resistance to the therapy highly unlikely.” Via Viruses can turn their DNA from a solid to a liquid to infect your cells. Image: A. Rottach/LMU via io9