Medical Research Council - Clinical Services Centre

Virtual Virus
03 July 2012

Virtual Virus

Supercomputers are helping us to understand how viruses invade cells in our body to replicate themselves. It’s a process so complex that it is difficult to observe directly. Real images of a flu virus, taken with an electron microscope, have been used to produce the 3D computer model, shown here. And, by applying massive computing power, it can even be animated so that researchers can track the 60 million atoms that make up a single virus. The result is a video of the virus in motion, which scientists can slow down to observe in detail. Here, the orange and cream protrusions on the surface represent proteins, which the virus uses as ‘keys’ to enter and exit the host cell. Scientists are particularly interested in understanding how the component proteins of new viruses are assembled inside the invaded cell, since this may provide targets for anti-viral drugs that disrupt the process.

Written by Mick Warwicker

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