Scientists from Carnegie Mellon University have zeroed in on a potential therapeutic target for controlling viral infection.
Within a virus's tiny exterior is a store of energy waiting to be unleashed. When the virus encounters a host cell, this pent-up energy is released, propelling the viral DNA into the cell and turning it into a virus factory.
"We are studying the physics of viruses, not the biology of viruses," said Carnegie Mellon University physicist Alex Evilevitch.
"By treating viruses as physical objects, we can identify physical properties and mechanisms of infection that are common to a variety of viruses, regardless of their biological makeup, which could lead to the development of broad spectrum antiviral drugs," Evilevitch added.
At the moment of infection, when the DNA is being shot out of the virus, the energy stored in the tightly packed DNA is released and converted into thermal energy.
Evilevitch and his colleagues from Lund University in Sweden, where Evilevitch was previously employed, and the Universite de Lyon in France used an experimental technique known as isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) to directly measure the heat, and thus the thermal energy, released during viral genome ejection.
"Understanding the energy profile for viral genome release provides information on how to interfere with the process," Evilevitch said.
For example, developing ways to decrease the internal energy in viruses could prevent viruses from ejecting their genome and prevent infection," he added.
The findings appear in Journal of Molecular Biology.