A new study has come up with the first complete structure of one of the flu virus' key machines i.e. polymerase.
The structure, obtained by scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble, France, allows researchers to understand how the machine works as a whole. Published in two papers in Nature, the work could prove instrumental in designing new drugs to treat serious flu infections and combat flu pandemics.
The machine in question, the influenza virus polymerase, carries out two vital tasks for the virus. It makes copies of the virus' genetic material i.e. the viral RNA to package into new viruses that can infect other cells and it reads out the instructions in that genetic material to make viral messenger RNA, which directs the infected cell to produce the proteins the virus needs.
Lead author Stephen Cusack, head of EMBL Grenoble, asserted that the flu polymerase was discovered 40 years ago, so there were hundreds of papers out there trying to fathom how it worked but only now that they had the complete structure could they really begin to understand it.
The EMBL scientists aim to explore the new insights this structure provides for drug design, as well as continuing to try to determine the structure of the human version of influenza A, because although the bat version is close enough that it already provides remarkable insights, ultimately fine-tuning drugs for treating people would benefit from/require knowledge of the version of the virus that infects humans. And, since this viral machine has to be flexible and change shape to carry out its different tasks, Cusack and colleagues also want to get further snapshots of the polymerase in different states.