January 6, 2009

3-D Model Of SARS-Causing Virus Reveals New Information

Scientists have developed a three-dimensional model of a virus that causes SARS, which they believe will assist future efforts to battle the disease.

Dutch researchers created the model using a hepatitis coronavirus from mice, they reported in the Jan. 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"I think we can translate what we found for this virus to the SARS virus," Berend Jan Bosch, a virologist at Utrecht University who worked on the study, told Reuters.

"If you are going to study the SARS virus you will basically find the same features."

Coronaviruses are enveloped viruses containing the largest reported RNA genomes, which are known to cause hepatitis C, influenza, and SARS. They primarily infect the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal tract of animals and birds.

There are about five known forms of coronaviruses that infect humans. They are considered to be a significant percentage of all common colds in human adults.

Bosch and his colleagues used 3-D electron microscopy to photograph frozen samples of the virus. The outer layer of the virus appeared to be thicker than expected, researchers said. The virus uses the layer to stick to healthy cells to spread.

"Because we take so many pictures from different angles, we could combine the images to recreate the virus in 3D," Bosch said.

"It is a broader understanding of the architecture of coronaviruses," he said. "It is really fundamental knowledge."

Scientists hope their findings will help them gain a better understanding of the deadly SARS outbreak in China in 2002 that killed some 800 people worldwide ad cost as much as $100 billion. The disease was ultimately kept under control after travel restrictions and quarantines were applied.


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