Structure and mechanism of nucleic acid-processing machines in viral biogenesis

Year of award: 2017


  • Prof Fred Antson

    University of York

Project summary

Viruses are the most common biological entities on our planet, infecting all living things. In humans, viral infections like glandular fever, dengue fever, Ebola and influenza cause illnesses and deaths worldwide, particularly in the very old or young or people with lowered immune defences. Some viruses can cause life-long infections as they are impossible to eradicate using current treatments. This can lead to heart problems or cancer. Others, such as Zika, can cause serious developmental damage to unborn babies. Viruses can only replicate in cells and they use dedicated capsules to protect their genes while passing to another host. During infection, new copies of the virus’s genes are made and loaded into capsules to make new virus particles that burst out of the host and spread to other cells. The virus employs highly specialised machines to copy its genes and to load them into the capsules.

We will use cryo-electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography and approaches that sense single molecules, to examine the machines and watch them work. The research will provide detailed information about what the machines look like and how they function.

Our findings  will inform the development of new treatments that can prevent or reduce viral infections.