Virus Viewing in High Definition

Researchers at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute are using new nanoscale imaging approaches to shed light on the dynamic activities of rotaviruses, important pathogens that cause life-threatening diarrhea in young children.

Once a rotavirus enters a host cell, it sheds its outermost protein layer, leaving behind a double-layered particle, or DLP. These DLPs are the form of the virus that produces messenger RNA molecules, which are critical for launching the infection.

Deborah Kelly and Sarah McDonald, both assistant professors at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, acquired molecular snapshots of rotavirus DLPs, in the midst of producing viral RNA, using cryo-electron microscopy.

Deborah Kelly, PhD
Sarah McDonald, PhD

What’s Important:
Half a million children die from rotavirus every year. If scientists can understand how rotavirus works, they can use the information to develop better vaccines.

What’s Cool:
Kelly developed this innovative technology. She and McDonald used a grid surface to bind rotaviruses in place. The rotaviruses have the freedom to proceed through their natural cycles of producing genetic material, but they are secured in place and are thus easier to observe.

Learn More:
Insight into a viral nanomachine

Where to Find It:
Kam J, Demmert AC, Tanner JR, McDonald SM, Kelly DF. Structural dynamics of viral nanomachines. Technology, 2014; 2(1).