Scientists have used computer rendering to build the first 3D model of HIV. The virus, which is 60 times smaller than a human red blood cell, has been notoriously difficult to map because of its variable size and flattened appearance.
By using a rotating X-ray similar to that used in computerised axial tomography scans the basic structure of the virus has been imaged. Computer rendering was then used to build the 3D model.
The imaging has answered one of the central questions about HIV: how it remains effective while appearing in such a variety of sizes.
Instead of the central core of the virus organising its growth, as in most viruses, the HIV outer membrane and core interact so that the core stops growing only when it reaches the membrane's limit.
"This novel mechanism accommodates significant flexibility in lattice growth while ensuring the closure of cores of variable size and shape," said Professor Stephen Fuller of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford University.
"Identifying how the virus grows will allow us to address the formation of this important pathogen and understand how it accommodates its variability. This could inform the development of more effective therapeutic approaches."
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