Under the electron microscope, a coronavirus may resemble a spiny sea urchin or appear crownlike, (the shape from which this family of pathogens takes its name). Previously recognized as the second leading cause of the common cold in humans and for economically important diseases in many domesticated animals, a new disease form abruptly emerged as a major public health concern in 2002, when the SARS coronavirus (CoV) surfaced in Asia.
The rapid spread of the virus caused significant social and economic disruption worldwide , infecting over 8000 people with Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS and killing about 10 percent of them. While SARS-CoV was brought under control through decisive action by health officials, the sudden scourge underlined the threat posed by coronaviruses and spurred new research into the inner workings of these infectious agents.
Brenda Hogue and her colleagues at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University are studying the intricate formation of these virusesa process known as viral assembly. The research may offer fresh insight, leading to a new generation of antiviral agents that can disrupt the ability of coronaviruses like SARS to assemble viable infectious particles. Such strategies may prove applicable against other classes of virus as well.
The group's work recently appeared in the Journal of Virology.
Viruses, Hogue stresses, differ fundamentally from other common microscopic pathogens like bacteria, in that viruses are structurally primitive, lacking the means to independently replicate. Viruses are composed of genetic information (DNA or RNA), encased by proteins. They exist in a shadowy region between living and non-living entities.
In order for a virus to replicate, it must commandeer machinery of a host cell it has infected. Nevertheless, viruses have evolved to be highly adept at this sort of replication-by-proxy, and can infect virtually all types of or
|Contact: Joseph Caspermeyer|
Arizona State University