Montana State University

Cover of Journal shows cell infected by virus first viewed by MSU scientists

June 28, 2009 -- Melynda Harrison


Scanning electron micrograph, from the cover of the Journal of Virology, of Sulfolobus solfataricus cells infected with a virus, showing pyramid-like structures on the surface of the cell.   High-Res Available

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The June cover of the Journal of Virology features a photograph of the unusual effects on a cell infected by a virus. Montana State University researchers were the first to view the virus, which they collected from a boiling, acidic spring in Yellowstone.

The article linked with the cover photograph describes the researchers' findings about the life cycle of the virus Sulfolobus turreted icosahedral virus (STIV). No one has seen STIV replicate within a host cell prior to the work done by MSU scientists.

"What is really surprising is how the virus gets out of the infected cell," said MSU virologist Mark Young.

STIV forms a pyramid-like projection on the surface of the cell.

"It looks just like the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre," Young said.

Understanding how particular viruses assemble and replicate often leads to new uses for the virus. For example, laboratories run by Young and chemist Trevor Douglas at MSU have demonstrated that viruses can be used for beneficial purposes ranging from creating smart drug delivery and imaging systems to making viruses act as nano-containers for making high performance magnetic materials for the computer industry.

Susan Brumfield, Vincent Ruigrok, Peter Suci, Douglas and Young of MSU and Alice Ortmann of the University of South Alabama, Mobile, investigated the effects of the virus on its host cell.

The pyramid-like projections have not been documented in any other host-virus system, according to the paper's authors. The structures are thought to be at sites where the virus' progeny are released from the cell.

The STIV virus was collected from Yellowstone National Park and brought back to a laboratory at MSU. The extreme environment that STIV lives in had to be replicated in order to keep the virus alive for study.

"Essentially we had to recreate Yellowstone in the lab," said Young.

The virus and its host cells continued to grow in an acid solution that mimics the water of Yellowstone hot springs and in specialized incubators that kept the virus at a toasty 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, the scientists were able to view the virus within its host using a high power electron microscope.

"We can look at the virus inside the cell for the first time," said principle author, Brumfield. "We could watch the construction of the virus in the cell and see how it released itself from the host cell."

"It's really an engineering feat," Young added. "It's kind of like building a house, and we saw it do that inside the cell for the first time."

"We'll continue to look in Yellowstone, and places like Yellowstone around the world," said Young. "Understanding viruses is fundamental work."

The Journal of Virology is one of the top three (of 25) virology journals according to the Institute for Scientific Information.

Contact Mark Young at (406) 994-5158 or myoung@montana.edu