Issue Date: January 16, 2012
Irradiation Bubbles Improve Virus Imaging
A moment of laboratory serendipity has led to a bubbly technique that helps scientists image the inner secrets of viruses (Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.1214120). Researchers led by Alasdair C. Steven of the National Institute of Arthritis & Musculoskeletal & Skin Diseases discovered that after an atypically high sequence of electron pulses was delivered to cryogenically frozen samples of viruses in an electron microscope, bubbles of hydrogen-containing gas formed in the viral capsid, precisely where deeply embedded protein hides beneath layers of a DNA-based exterior. The team immediately envisioned a potential application for this radiation-induced damage of the protein, which leaves DNA intact. Many viruses hide their essential proteins deep inside their capsids, like a needle in a haystack, making it difficult for scientists to know where to focus their analysis. With the new method, microscopists can take a standard scan of the virus and then take the “bubblegram” to help them visualize where, in the original scan, their hidden protein targets lie. Exactly how the bubbles form is not yet known, but the team speculates that being deeply embedded in DNA blocks the diffusion of the protein’s radiation breakdown products, which then build up until bubbles form.
- Chemical & Engineering News
- ISSN 0009-2347
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