Acid loving virus can treat deadly human diseases


Researchers have discovered a virus that can resist boiling acid and offers new hope in developing cures for treating dangerous diseases. Scientists from Virginia School of Medicine have uncovered the secret lies in their DNA which contains an indestructible armor.

“What’s interesting and unusual is being able to see how proteins and DNA can be put together in a way that’s absolutely stable under the harshest conditions imaginable,” said Edward H. Egelman, PhD, of the UVA Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics.

They have discovered the mechanisms of resistance to heat, desiccation and ultraviolet radiation. This helps researchers find ways to package gene therapy.

Finding different ways to package DNA delivery is very important because the human body has many ways to degrade foreign DNA and combat viruses, which is a major obstacle for doctors that seek to fight diseases using gene therapy.

The virus SIRV2 infects an organism of microscopic dimensions known as Sulfolobus islandicus which Engelman described that it lives in remarkably unusual conditions such as acidic hot springs where temperatures rise up to 175 degrees Farenheit. Major similarities have been discovered between the SIRV2 virus and the bacterial spores in surviving in harsh conditions. “Some of these spores are responsible for very, very horrific diseases that are hard to treat, like anthrax. So we show in this paper that this virus actually functions in a similar way to some of the proteins present in bacterial spores,” Egelman pointed out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. have classified the spores of C. difficile at the highest threat level “urgent.” “In order to destroy these harmful bacterial spores, we need to understand how they work and what their abilities are”, Egelman added.

But how can SIRV2 virus survive? The study shows that this virus forces and turns its DNA into an A-form, a specific DNA structural form that has been identified by Rosalind Franklin more than 50 years ago. This is going to add to Rosalind’s research, which showed that A-form DNA only occurred in the lab under non-biological conditions. This appears to be a general state for protecting DNA.

Egelman and researchers have come to such a discovery due to the new UVA Titan Krios electron microscope. This super power microscope is only one of the few in the world and shows biological samples in amazing  detail. Many researchers are going to follow in Egelman’s team’s footsteps and unravel new mysteries that are hard to see with the human eye.

The study has been described in the prestigious scientific journal Science in an article authored by Frank DiMaio, Xiong Yu, Elena Rensen, Mart Krupovic, David Prangishvili and Egelman.