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Yale biologists 'trick' viruses into extinction

New Haven, Conn. While human changes to the environment cause conservation biologists to worry about species extinction, Yale biologists are reversing the logic by trying to trap viruses in habitats that force their extinction, according to a report in Ecology Letters.

To avoid going extinct a population must not only survive, but also reproduce. Paul Turner, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale, tested the practicality of luring a virus population into the wrong cells within the human body, thus preventing virus reproduction and alleviating disease.

"Ecological traps for viruses might arise naturally, or could be engineered by adding viral binding sites to cells that disallow virus reproduction," said senior author Turner. "We proved the concept using a non-human virus, and variants of the bacteria cells it infects."

In ecology, a habitat that supports population growth is termed a "source," whereas a non-supportive habitat is a "sink." This study reported on the success of phi-6 virus populations in environments containing different mixtures of ordinary "source" bacteria and mutant trap cells that act as "sinks."

Their research showed that when the number of trap cells exceeded a key threshold in the mixtures, the virus population could no longer sustain itself and declined toward extinction.

"This approach has intriguing potential for new treatments against human viruses," said Turner. "A similar idea already exists in agriculture, where farmers use non-harvested 'trap crops' to lure insect pests. Because the pests prefer the taste of the trap crops, only these plants need to be sprayed, reducing the amount of pesticide use."

Turner believes that similar trickery might be used against human viruses like HIV. He notes that HIV recognizes the T-cells it infects by C
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Contact: Janet Rettig Emanuel
janet.emanuel@yale.edu
203-432-2157
Yale University
12-Feb-2007


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