In a lab at the Michigan State University, researchers took a DIY method to construct a retrofitted cryo-electron microscope that enabled them to map a huge Samba virus. “If the common cold virus is scaled to the size of a ladder, then the giant Samba virus is huge than the Washington Monument,” says Kristin Parent, assistant lecturer of biochemistry and molecular biology and co-author of the paper. “Cryo-EM allowed us to map the structure of the virus and observe the proteins it uses to enter or attack the cells.”
It seems counterintuitive that the bigger organisms are much harder to see, but they are when using cryo – electron microscopy. That is because such microscopes usually are employed to look at sleek specimens and cannot decipher bigger organisms to disclose their biological mechanisms. For thick samples, researchers see only dark gray or black blobs rather than witnessing the framework of molecular.
Cryo-EM enabled team of parents to image the giant Samba virus and comprehend the structures that allow it to enter an amoeba. Once inside it, Samba opens one its capsid layers and releases its nucleocapsid, which carries the genetic cargo that sparks an infection. While Samba is not known to cause any ailments in humans, its cousin, the mimivirus, may be a culprit for causing some respiratory ailments in humans.
“If you scoop up a handful of water from the Lake Michigan, you are literally holding more viruses than there are other people on the planet,” says Parent, who published the Jason Schard and Eric Young, MSU biochemistry and molecular biology graduate students. “While researchers cannot study every virus on Earth, the insights we glean from viruses like the giant Samba can help us comprehend the mechanisms of other viruses in its family, how they thrive and how we can attack them.”
As bacteria become more resistant to antibiotics, searching for novel methods to fight ailments will continue to grow in importance. Lab of parents also studies how bacteria infecting viruses enter cells with this method that could probably result in novel antibacterial treatments. Still the world’s best cryo-EM microscope costs more than $5million.
Parent did not invent cryo-EM, but establishing it on the campus caters as a viable proof of concept for MSU, opening the door for numerous interdisciplinary partnerships. This finest microscopy has applications across numerous fields, from those addressing a singular protein to others studying entire cells. Virtually anyone studying intricate molecular machines can advance their work with this tool.
“We have performed quite a bit with our limited resources, but we are primed to do more,” says Parent. “I think MSU could cater as a cryo-EM centre and to enhance the prevalence of such technology in the Midwest and beyond.” For instance, researchers from Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janerio
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