Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Zika's structure has been revealed, bringing scientists closer to a vaccine

Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to miscarriage and severe microcephaly in the fetuses of infected women, just lost a little bit of its edge to researchers. On Thursday, a Purdue University team published the virus's structure for the first time in the journal Science.

By outlining the physical structure of the virus in near-atomic detail, they have made it possible for scientists to determine the unique properties that make Zika so dangerous — and how those abilities might be knocked out with vaccines and treatments.

Zika is a flavivirus — a member of the same family as other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever — and its strong similarity with those better-understood viruses was confirmed in the study. But scientists are most interested in what makes Zika different.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Purdue's Michael Rossmann, who co-led the team with Richard Kuhn, said their examinations with an electron microscope had found significant changes to the Zika virus' surface.

It shares a basic structure with all flaviviruses: Genetic info in the form of RNA is surrounded by a fatty membrane, then encased in a protein shell with a 20-sided face. The protein shells are made of 180 copies of two different proteins, each composed of chains of different amino acids. Once inside a target cell, the virus breaks apart and forces the host to do its bidding, replacing the instructions coded into the cell's DNA with those programmed by viral RNA.

Zika differs most from other flaviviruses at a spot thought to be crucial to the cellular break-in. At this site, a carbohydrate molecule — made of different sugars — sits on the virus's protein shell. The so-called glycosylation site where Zika differs actually protrudes from the shell of the virus. In other viruses, similar protrusions act like strangers offering candy, tricking the human cell into binding with the invader. Like other flaviviruses, Zika seems to have a unique smattering of amino acids around that area.

"That makes it very different in a very important respect," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Post. While the findings don't begin to explain how or why these changes might allow Zika to have such disastrous effects on fetal brain development, he said, "it provides a very plausible explanation for why we're seeing Zika do things these other flaviviruses don't do."

Zika's structure has been revealed, bringing scientists closer to a vaccine 03/31/16 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2016 9:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Washington Post.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trump condemns killing of pair who tried to stop racist rant

    Nation

    President Donald Trump on Monday condemned the fatal stabbing of two good Samaritans trying to help a pair of young women targeted by an anti-Muslim tirade on a Portland, Ore., light rail train.

    Coco Douglas, 8, leaves a handmade sign and rocks she painted at a memorial in Portland, Ore., on Saturday for two bystanders who were stabbed to death Friday while trying to stop a man who was yelling anti-Muslim slurs and acting aggressively toward two young women. From left are Coco's brother, Desmond Douglas; her father, Christopher Douglas; and her stepmother, Angel Sauls. [Associated Press]
  2. What major sporting event could Tampa Bay land next?

    Lightning Strikes

    We are on quite a roll as a community. First, we had a Super Bowl drop from the storm clouds into our lap. It just reaffirms the fact that Tampa Bay is great at lap. And Monday it became official: Next year's NHL All-Star Game will be held at Amalie Arena. The best in the world will be here to shoot and score. And …

    MVP Wayne Gretzky is congratulated at the 1999 NHL All-Star game, the last time the event was in Tampa Bay. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times file]
  3. How the 2018 NHL All-Star Game reflects Jeff Vinik's vision for Tampa

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There were several reasons the NHL announced Monday that Tampa will host the 2018 All-Star Game on Jan. 28.

    This was the  logo for the 1999 NHL All-Star game played Sunday, Jan 24, 1999 at the Ice Palace in Tampa Bay. (AP Photo)
  4. Photo gallery: Nation pays respects to America's war dead on Memorial Day

    Human Interest

    At Memorial Day ceremonies in Tampa Bay area and around the country, Americans paid tribute to the men and women who gave their lives in service to their country.

    Eight-year-old Piper St. Jean, of Tampa, uses a brush to clean the grave of her grandfather, Henry St. Jean, who served with the United States Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars. at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens on Monday moments after the conclusion of their 31st annual Memorial Day Service on Monday (5/23/17) in Palm Harbor. The event featured guest speakers, live choral performances by the Palm Harbor United Methodist Church choir and live music by Bones South, an area trombone ensemble with rhythm section. On Saturday local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops placed flags on veterans???‚??„? graves prior to the event. This is an annual tradition of Curlew Hills' Memorial Day services and helps the Scout troops achieve merit badges. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.
  5. Protest sparks Texas lawmaker threats of gun violence

    National

    AUSTIN, Texas — Hundreds of protesters opposing Texas' tough new anti-"sanctuary cities" law launched a raucous demonstration from the public gallery in the Texas House on Monday, briefly halting work and prompting lawmakers on the floor below to scuffle — and even threaten gun violence — as tense …