18 September 2013
The Ebola virus is a tiny fragment of life. And yet, controlled by just seven genes (compared to the 24,000 in humans), it kills around nine in ten people it infects. How does something with such limited resources cause such harm? One way, it seems, is by multitasking. Having few genes limits the number of proteins it can make. But this computer model, which uses ribbons and lines to represent proteins’ core structure, shows one Ebola protein reshaping itself. This transformation means that as time passes the protein can support the virus’ deadly mission in different ways. The researchers found three unique forms, and with each providing separate targets to fire drugs at, the discovery could lead to new treatments. What’s more, if this shape-shifting ability is not unique to Ebola virus, it could fundamentally change the way we think about proteins - the basic building blocks of life.
Written by Anthony Lewis