UC Riverside plant pathologist awarded $1 million grant to study virus assembly

RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- (www.ucr.edu) -- UC Riverside's A. L. N. Rao of the department of plant pathology has been awarded a grant of $994,715 by the National Institutes of Health - National Institute of General Medical Science for four years starting Aug. 2003. Rao was awarded the grant for studying 'the mechanism of virus assembly.'

"A fundamental question in virology is how viruses package their genomes into stable virions or virus particles," explained Rao, who is associate professor of plant pathology and associate plant pathologist. "If a virus has to spread to another host, it can only be accomplished if the virus is intact. Hence assembly of the virus is important."

(A virus is a minute infectious agent made up of nucleic acid -- DNA or RNA -- and protein that is totally inert outside the host cell. A mature virus is termed a virion and consists of a shell of protein units arranged around a central molecule of nucleic acid. A genome is all the DNA or RNA in a virus or an organism, encoding all its genes.)

Rao explained that once a virus enters a host cell, it releases its nucleic acid (i.e., the infectious part of the virus) into the cell. This nucleic acid then multiplies, and makes more virus particles, killing the cell and causing disease. To make more virus particles, the nucleic acid needs to synthesize the proteins it contains. One of these proteins, called the 'replication protein,' is made using the host's contents and is in turn used to make new copies of the original nucleic acid. Similarly, another set of special 'coat proteins' are synthesized from the newly made nucleic acids. These coat proteins interact with the newly synthesized nucleic acids to form a virion or virus particle with an incredible precision. This proces

Contact: Iqbal Pittalwala
University of California - Riverside

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