Makes it possible to ‘live’ monitoring of coronavirus infection

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Researchers in the Netherlands have developed a new microscope technology that, together with the virus marking technique, is able to monitor “live” the moment when viral particles invade a human organism and replicate within cells.

Published this month (13) in the journal Cell, the discovery may be an important tool in understanding positive stranded RNA viruses, such as the new coronavirus, responsible for the current covid-19 pandemic on the planet.

The coronavirus is of the RNA type, which means that its genetic material is made up of RNA, or ribonucleic acid. This component allows the virus to “hijack” infected cells and produce viral replication, as if they were true factories for copies of the original virus.

Although RNA viruses have been the subject of numerous studies, little has been known so far about the processes that occur during the first hours of infection, due to the lack of sensitive assays, which limited the work of scientists to some snapshots and isolated from the process.

Marking and tracking

The new type of tracking is based on “tag-and-track” technology, in which a fluorescent label called SunTag is applied to the proteins of the virus. Next, the researchers use VIRIM microscope technology, which is an English acronym for real-time imaging of virus infection, to observe how this organism enters the cell and starts producing viral proteins.

Through VIRIM, scientists were able to realize that the replication dynamics between cells is a heterogeneous process, and that there is a coordination between the translation and replication of unique viral RNA’s. With that, the researchers defined the stage of RNA entry into the cell as the main “bottleneck” for a successful infection.

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In this way, the research team “helped” the cells, increasing their defense system. When these human host structures received an initial boost, they were able to remain completely free of infections. With that, the researchers were able to detect the junctions where and when the virus is most vulnerable.

For Sanne Boersma, the study’s main author, this knowledge will allow the creation of “a treatment that intervenes in a moment of vulnerability in the life of the virus”.


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