Structural biologists including Michael G. Rossmann have obtained clearer pictures of how the T4 virus, long known to infect E. coli bacteria, alters its shape as it prepares to pierce its host's cell membrane. The complicated infection process requires a flower-like section of the virus, known as the baseplate, to shape-shift by dramatically changing the configuration of the numerous proteins that form it. The team has taken cryoelectron microscope images of the baseplate from different moments in the process and transformed them into a brief animated movie, helping scientists understand how infection occurs and possibly enabling them to apply this knowledge for the benefit of human patients in the future.
"Instead of a still photo of the baseplate, we now have a movie of it opening," said Rossmann, who is Henley Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences in Purdue's School of Science. "A better understanding of the infection process is a step forward for fundamental science, but it also could allow scientists to alter the baseplate so that the virus could infect cells other than E. coli. T4 might then be used to deliver beneficial genes to damaged or infected human tissue."
The research was performed at Purdue and the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry in Moscow by a team of scientists including first author Petr G. Leiman, Paul R. Chipman, Victor A. Kostyuchenko, Vadim V. Mesyanzhinov and Rossmann. The paper appears in the current (Aug. 20) issue of the scientific journal Cell, and it builds on research the team published last year regarding the baseplate of the T4 virus. This previous paper offered a close-up picture of the baseplate at a single moment in time, information that
Contact: Michael Rossmann