Virus Caught in the Act of Infecting a Cell
Jan. 11, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — The detailed changes in the structure of a virus as it infects an E. coli bacterium have been observed for the first time, report researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UT Health) Medical School this week in Science Express.

To infect a cell, a virus must be able to first find a suitable cell and then eject its genetic material into its host. This robot-like process has been observed in a virus called T7 and visualized by Ian Molineux, professor of biology in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, and his colleagues.

The researchers show that when searching for its prey, the virus briefly extends — like feelers — one or two of six ultra-thin fibers it normally keeps folded at the base of its head.

Once a suitable host has been located, the virus behaves a bit like a planetary rover, extending these fibers to walk randomly across the surface of the cell and find an optimal site for infection...

Animation showing the changes in the structure of a T7 virus as it infects an E. coli bacterium.