A group of scientists say they have unlocked the secrets of a bizarre virus, which can lead to the development of a new tool to battle human ailments. The nearly indestructible virus, which can survive harsh environments such as boiling acid, is expected to help scientists use genetic therapy to cure diseases.
The virus, called “SIRV2,” infects a microscopic organism that lives in “extremely unusual” conditions such as acidic hot springs where temperatures top 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The researchers identified similarities between the way SIRV2 forces its DNA into a protective structural state, called “A-form,” and the methods used by bacterial spores to survive in inhospitable environments.
“Some of these spores are responsible for very, very horrific diseases that are hard to treat, like anthrax,” Edward H. Egelman of the University of Virginia’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Geneticssaid in a statement. “So we show in this paper that this virus actually functions in a similar way to some of the proteins present in bacterial spores.”
According to the scientists, finding an effective way for DNA delivery that’s necessary for successful gene therapy is important because the human body has several ways to degrade a foreign DNA to combat harmful viruses. But this protective mechanism has been a major obstacle for doctors who seek to use foreign genes to battle diseases.
Creating an impenetrable DNA package would overcome that problem, with SIRV2 offering a promising template to achieve that goal, scientists said in a study, published in the journal Science last week.
“We’ve discovered what appears to be a basic mechanism of resistance – to heat, to desiccation, to ultraviolet radiation,” Egelman said. “And knowing that, then, we can go in many different directions, including developing ways to package DNA for gene therapy.”