Health

New Anti-Virus Strategy: Let Them Know They're Not Welcome

Instead of killing viruses directly, one biologist is trying to turn the host’s body into an inhospitable place for the germs to stay.

By Valerie RossFeb 3, 2011 12:00 AM
herpeskey.jpg
A cell infected with the herpes simplex virus (round shapes).F.A. Murphy/University of Texas Medical Branch | NULL

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Viruses, little more than some RNA or DNA wrapped in a protein coat, are among the simplest sources of illness. They are also the most difficult to destroy. Antibiotics are impotent against them, and the few drugs targeting a specific virus often lose their efficacy as the pathogen evolves. So it is time for a fresh approach, a University of Edinburgh cellular biologist says.

Amy Buck and her colleagues studied microRNAs, snippets of genetic material in a host organism—you, for instance—that influence the proteins the organism’s cells produce. The researchers identified several human and mouse microRNAs that seem to create an unfavorable physiological environment for viruses. When they cranked up levels of those RNAs in cells infected with herpes, the viruses almost stopped reproducing. The same microRNAs were also effective against Semliki Forest Virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen with a very different life cycle and genetic makeup.

By taking away materials viruses need to survive rather than attacking them from the outside, the technique might be more useful against a wider range of viruses, and for a longer time, than any one drug. “We’ll never get around the fact that viruses mutate,” Buck says, “but we can develop these alternative strategies.” She is now testing the approach against one of the most common viral killers: seasonal flu.

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!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

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

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2021 Kalmbach Media Co.