Virus particles of the same type had been thought to have identical structures, like a mass-produced toy, but a new visualization technique developed by a Purdue University researcher revealed otherwise.
Wen Jiang, an associate professor of biological sciences, found that an important viral substructure consisted of a collection of components that could be assembled in different ways, creating differences from particle to particle.
“It was assumed that each individual virus particle was an exact copy of the others, but nature is more complicated than that,” Jiang said. “There are actually slight differences that result in a number of potential structural combinations for this part of the virus. By looking at only one very small part of this substructure at a time, we were able to obtain clear images and show various different combinations an individual particle could possess. Better visualization allows us to better understand the structure of viruses, which could lead to new ways to treat infections and improve human health.”
Visualization of a virus particle’s structure relies on a reconstruction created from views of many different particles. Scientists captured images of particles in a thin layer of solution, each frozen in a different orientation, like toys from an assembly line spread out haphazardly on a blanket. Some are facing up and others down, while some are on their side and others are on end. By combining all of the views, one could get a good idea of what the whole toy looks like. In this way, the structure of a single virus is created from the averages of the group.
However, this only works if the toys or particles are identical. When there are variations and different combinations of parts possible, a reconstruction from views of different individuals tends to be distorted and creates an inaccurate representation.
Read more at: Phys.org