Getting those details has been a real challenge. One reason is that flu RNPs are complex assemblies that are hard to produce efficiently in the lab. Flu polymerase genes are particularly resistant to being expressed in test cells, and their protein products exist in three separate pieces, or subunits, that have to somehow self-assemble. Until now, the only flu RNPs that have been reproduced in the laboratory are shortened versions whose structures aren't quite the same as those of native flu RNPs. Researchers also are limited in how much virus they can use for such studies.
The team nevertheless managed to develop a test-cell expression system that produced all of the protein and RNA components needed to make full-length flu RNPs. "We were able to get the cells to assemble these components properly so that we had working, self-replicating RNPs," said Robert N. Kirchdoerfer, a first author of the study. Kirchdoerfer was a PhD candidate in the Wilson laboratory during the study, and is now a postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of TSRI Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire.
Kirchdoerfer eventually purified enough of these flu RNPs for electron microscope analysis at TSRI's Automated Molecular Imaging Group, which is run jointly by Carragher and Potter.
Never Seen Before
The imaging group's innovations enable researchers to analyze molecular samples more easily, in less time, and often with less starting material. "We were able, for example, to automatically collect data for several days in a row, which is unusual in electron microscopy work," said Arne Moeller, a postdoctoral research associate at the imaging group who was the other first author of the
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Scripps Research Institute