Giant viruses use a protein "shield" to fight bacteria

Virologists at the University of California San Diego have discovered that giant phage cells create

shielded compartment (isolatedarea) that acts like a nucleus in human and animal cells and protects the main genetic material of the virus. The structure is made up of a single protein, which scientists named chimallin after the shields worn by the ancient Aztecs.

A phage-infected bacterium under a microscope (left) and a reconstructed image of the protein coat protecting the genetic material of the virus (right). Image: Villa Lab, UC San Diego

The researchers used cryoelectronicmicroscopy and tomography with the highest possible resolution to visualize giant bacteriophage cells. With the help of ultra-precise observations, they were able to study the unusual structure in detail.

This is a separate area of ​​​​a different type - notlike nothing else we have ever seen in nature. We were able to characterize it, determine how it is assembled and functions at the most basic level: from a single atom to the scale of an entire organism.

Elizabeth Villa, Associate Professor, School of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego

In further research, virologistsused computer modeling to determine the functions of this protein. The researchers found that the "screen" allows certain key components to enter while also acting as a defense mechanism against bacterial threats.

The 24 individual himalin proteins assemble into a cube inside the cells of infected bacteria. Thousands of such particles form a "square" tile covering the phage nucleus. Image: Villa Lab, UC San Diego

Bacteria are harmful not only to people and animals.For millions of years of evolution, viruses and bacteria fought each other, creating new defense mechanisms in the process of this “arms race”. Bacteriophages are one of the promising technologies for combating antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

Researchers believe that with the help of proteinchymallin can create a protective shell for viruses that do not have it, but which are suitable for the treatment of various infections. This will allow the use of evolutionary means of combating bacteria in the course of therapy.

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