British Scientists Crack Hidden Codes of Single Stranded RNA Viruses

Single-stranded RNA viruses are the most uncomplicated type of virus. However, they are the most potent and detrimental of infectious pathogens. Among them the most common is Rhinovirus, cause a billion of infections each year globally, is the predominant cause of common cold. Other single-stranded RNA viruses include the hepatitis C virus, HIV, polio and the winter vomiting bug, norovirus.

Tackling common cold is one of the most elusive goals of medicine, as no specific is treatment available yet.

However British researchers have identified a genetic code governing such infections, which could potentially lead to novel treatments and cures. According to the experts, this discovery is a scientific equivalent of deciphering the German’s Enigma machine in World War II, which helped the Allies to win, and would stop viruses dead in their tracks.

Early this month research groups from the University of Leeds and University of York unlocked the genetic information and demonstrated that jamming the code can disrupt virus assembly. Thus stopping its function and prevent the disease.

The researchers demonstrate that though it is well known that RNA carries the genetic messages that create viral proteins, a second code governing virus assembly is not known so far.   Thus this discovery makes easier to design molecules to interfere with the code, making it un-interpretable and efficiently stopping the virus. They have decoded the genomes of the 99 strains of common cold virus and developed a catalogue of its vulnerabilities.

The researchers started this study a few years back and published the first observations at a single-molecule level in 2012. They described how the core of a single-stranded RNA virus packs itself into its outer shell. Mathematicians from the University of York collaborating with the Leeds group, then devised mathematical algorithms to crack the code governing the process and built computer-based models of the coding system. Finally the two groups jointly have unlocked the code. They used single-molecule fluorescence spectroscopy to observe the codes being used by the satellite tobacco necrosis virus, a single stranded RNA plant virus.

The researchers think to extend the study into animal viruses. They believe that their combination of single-molecule detection capabilities and their computational models would definitely offer a novel route for drug discovery.

Journal Reference:

Revealing the density of encoded functions in a viral RNA. Nikesh Patel, Eric C. Dykeman, Robert H. A. Coutts, George P. Lomonossoff, David J. Rowlands, Simon E. V. Phillips, Neil Ranson, Reidun Twarock, Roman Tuma, Peter G. Stockley.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2015; 201420812 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1420812112

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Arunima Maiti

Arunima Maiti

Biomedical scientist with special interest in reproductive biology.

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