Associate Professor Vijay S. Reddy, the study's senior author, says that that the three-dimensional structure of the virus reveals that it is unlike any other known member of the Picornaviridae viral family, and confirms its recent designation as a separate genus "Senecavirus".
According to him, the virus's outer protein shell looks like a craggy golf ball?one with uneven divets and raised spikes?and the RNA strand beneath it is arranged in a round mesh rather like a whiffleball.
"It is not at all like other known picornaviruses that we are familiar with, including poliovirus and rhinoviruses, which cause the common cold. This crystal structure will now help us understand how Senecavirus works, and how we can take advantage of it," he says.
Working with postdoctoral researcher Sangita Venkataraman, Reddy found that the differences between other picornaviruses and the Senecavirus were like variations among car models of the same manufacturer.
"The chassis is the same, but the body style is different. How the body of a virus is shaped determines how it infects cells," he says.
After solving the structure of Seneca Valley Virus-001, the researchers went on to identify several areas on the viral protein coat that they think might hook onto receptors on cancer cells in the process of infecting them.
They are presently conducting further investigations on this process.
"It will be critically important to find out what region of its structure the virus is using to bind to tumor cells, and what those cancer cell receptors are. Then we can, hopefully, improve Senecavirus enough to become a potent agent that can be used with many different cancers," Reddy says.