Scientists discover way to potentially track and stop human and agricultural viruses

February 18, 2016
Xiaofeng Wang, an assistant professor in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has discovered a way to track and potentially stop viruses. Credit: Virginia Tech

Viruses are molecular thieves that take from their hosts under the cloak of darkness. But now a Virginia Tech scientist has found a way to not only track viral hijackers, but also potentially stop them from replicating.

The discovery has broad ranging applications in stopping viral outbreaks such as Hepatitis C in humans and a number of in plants and animals because it applies to many viruses in the largest category of viral classes—positive-strand RNA viruses.

The findings were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Even though these viruses infect very different hosts, they all replicate similarly across the board, so what we learn from one virus can potentially be translated to control viruses in agricultural production as well as ," said Xiaofeng Wang, an assistant professor of plant pathology, physiology, and weed science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Wang's findings could target any number of plant viruses. One virus Wang has studied—the cucumber mosaic virus—affects pumpkin, squash and gourds in 1,200 species in over 100 plant families.

Sprays could be developed to halt the virus on plants, saving millions of dollars in agricultural sectors.

Wang, who is a Fralin Life Science-associated faculty member, used brome mosaic virus to study how viral infections start. He found that the brome mosaic virus stimulates synthesis of host lipid cells called phosphatidylcholine at the sites where viral replication occurs, and that by inhibiting its synthesis, the viral replication stopped.

Wang also collaborated with researchers to study how human viruses like Hepatitis C virus and poliovirus regulate host lipid synthesis and found that viral replication behaved in the same way as using plant viruses. The ramifications for human health mean that developing a drug delivery system to combat the Hepatitis C virus would be much more nimble in treating viral outbreaks than slow-moving vaccines, and could play a crucial role in halting the debilitating infection which affects 3.5 million people in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Viruses can't replicate by themselves. They are essentially thieves that break into cells and multiply by hijacking the machinery of the host cells and proliferating and remodeling lipid-containing membranes such as phosphatidylcholine—one the most prominent lipids in host membranes. Wang and his collaborators were able to see where exactly the virus replications started and how they managed their hosts to meet their needs. Based on the finding of Wang and his collaborators, new ways can be developed to stop phosphatidylcholine synthesis for viral replication, but leave the host undamaged.

"The better we understand the mechanisms of a biological process, be it replication or cell division, the better are our options to rationally design tools that can control it," said George Belov, a collaborator of Wang's and an assistant professor of virology at the University of Maryland. "In the case of it may provide us with novel ways to control infection without causing host toxicity and a generation of viral-resistant mutants."

Explore further: Human genomic pathways to bronchitis virus therapy

More information: Jiantao Zhang et al. Positive-strand RNA viruses stimulate host phosphatidylcholine synthesis at viral replication sites, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519730113

Related Stories

Human genomic pathways to bronchitis virus therapy

November 18, 2015

Viral replication and spread throughout a host organism employs many proteins, but the process is not very well understood. Scientists at A*STAR have led a collaborative study to learn which host factors play a key role in ...

Inside the hepatitis C virus is a promising antiviral

January 5, 2016

A peptide derived from the hepatitis C virus (HCV) kills a broad range of viruses while leaving host cells unharmed by discriminating between the molecular make-up of their membranes, reveals a study published January 5 in ...

Cell biologist pinpoints how RNA viruses copy themselves

May 28, 2010

Nihal Altan-Bonnet, assistant professor of cell biology, Rutgers University in Newark, and her research team have made a significant new discovery about RNA (Ribonucleic acid) viruses and how they replicate themselves.

Recommended for you

Researchers identify genes for 'Help me!' aromas from corn

October 25, 2016

When corn seedlings are nibbled by caterpillars, they defend themselves by releasing scent compounds that attract parasitic wasps whose larvae consume the caterpillar—but not all corn varieties are equally effective at ...

Genome editing: Efficient CRISPR experiments in mouse cells

October 25, 2016

In order to use the CRISPR-Cas9 system to cut genes, researchers must design an RNA sequence that matches the DNA of the target gene. Most genes have hundreds of such sequences, with varying activity and uniqueness in the ...

Structure of key DNA replication protein solved

October 25, 2016

A research team led by scientists at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS) has solved the three-dimensional structure of a key protein that helps damaged cellular DNA repair itself. Investigators say that knowing ...

Microbe hunters discover iron-munching microbe

October 25, 2016

A microbe that 'eats' both methane and iron: microbiologists have long suspected its existence, but were not able to find it - until now. Researchers at Radboud University and the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology ...

Study reveals human ability to make ourselves sound bigger

October 25, 2016

Research from the University of Sussex suggests that humans are unique among primates in being able to intentionally alter the frequencies of our voices to sound larger or smaller than we really are, a capacity that is likely ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Feb 19, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Feb 19, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Feb 19, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Captain Stumpy
not rated yet Mar 09, 2016
reading and comprehension is not high on your list of things to know, is it dave?
We want them to think life is not as important as it really is
considering that life is defined as the time between nonexistence and death, then the most important thing about life is then DEATH, as it terminates life regardless of it's existence
as we are made of organic particles, life must by definition be emergent from the chemistry of interactions, thus it is irrelevant and only defined, again, by it's termination/death
by extrapolation, we can see that the only important thing in life is therefore what is DONE with said life... not that it exists at all, especially as it is likely just a series of emergent behaviors from organic chemistry, which is in fact, non-life

therefore, we can see your premise is actually a false claim as you are not capable of comprehending the physics or basics of chemistry

next time, try to actually use the education system!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.