We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

#47: Biologists Watch HIV Replicate in Real Time

Using fluorescent proteins, researchers observer the virus forming.

By Sarah Witman
Dec 13, 2008 6:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:27 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Although researchers have been studying AIDS for nearly three decades, until this year no one had ever witnessed HIV—or any other viral particles—forming inside a cell.

Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York City tweaked the genetic program of HIV so that an essential protein, a building block of the virus, would turn fluorescent. They then used an imaging technique that zeroes in on a thin layer of a specimen to examine the surface of an HIV-infected cell. Within six minutes the scientists observed glowing spheres that looked like virus particles.

Seeing the potential virus was the easy part, says cell biologist Sanford Simon of Rockefeller University. Demonstrating that the glowing spheres really were developing viruses proved more challenging. Using several molecular tricks, Simon and his colleagues showed that the spheres contained tightly packed molecules that grew to a certain size and then stopped. By using a kind of cellular litmus paper to track the movement of protons, the researchers could also see when the round particles had isolated themselves from the rest of the cell. Together, these results confirmed that Simon and his team were watching HIV in action [subscription required].

With this ability to follow viruses in real time, the Rockefeller scientists hope to tease out how HIV recruits proteins from human cells to do its dirty work; they also plan to look more broadly at how viruses develop. Simon says the convergence of better optics and better genetic and chemical tools is allowing rapid progress in answering these fundamental questions about infectious disease. “Many of us are feeling like kids in a toy shop,” he says.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.