17 December 2013
The influenza virus is a plucky parasite; exploiting any cells it infects to spread its disease. Here, two stages from a computer simulation show the spiky ‘limbs’ of influenza particles (haemagglutinin, pictured in orange) bursting out from the membrane of an infected cell. As more spikes cluster together (lower picture), the membrane’s swirling currents of fatty lipids (coloured light and dark blue) reorganise to form a ‘raft’ around the virus. This supportive gesture could spell the end for cells in real tissues. Viral particles mould huge chunks of torn-away membrane into vesicles – lipid bubbles used like submarines to float the virus towards new healthy cells. Investigating how lipid rafts are formed may reveal crucial weaknesses in this process of viral ‘budding’, just one of many ruthless ways in which viruses can spread inside our bodies.
Written by John Ankers