From Chicago Tribune via ANL: “This giant X-ray machine helped decode one of the Zika virus’ secrets “

Argonne Lab

News from Argonne National Laboratory


Chicago Tribune

Ally Marotti

Other viruses in the same family as Zika, such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, also produce the NS1 protein. (Argonne National Laboratory)

A group of Midwest researchers is one step closer to a Zika vaccine, and they used a giant X-ray machine at the Chicago area’s Argonne National Lab to get there.

University of Michigan and Purdue University researchers used equipment at Lemont-based Argonne to map the molecular structure of a protein the Zika virus produces.

That knowledge can lead to more accurate diagnoses of Zika and possibly a vaccine or antiviral drugs, said Janet Smith, professor of biological chemistry in the Life Sciences Institute at Michigan.

“We don’t have good diagnostic tools to know if a person has been infected with Zika,” said Smith, who led the study. “There are a bunch of antibody tests out there to see if you’ve been exposed to Zika — the problem is they’re not specific enough.”

Of course no vaccine will come in time for the Olympics, which start next week, Smith said, but these findings are important in the fight against the disease.

Zika is a growing concern in the U.S., as cases are increasingly reported in countries outside of the tropics. The virus is known to cause devastating birth defects, and the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency over its spread.

Nearly 1,500 cases have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but all were acquired while traveling. However, experts say that will change by the end of the year.

Although a study out of Yale University found it’s highly unlikely those traveling to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics will contract the disease, fear has amplified as the games approach.

The protein Smith and her team looked at is called NS1. Other viruses in the same family as Zika, such as dengue, West Nile and yellow fever, also produce the protein. When a person gets infected, the virus induces their body to make the protein.

“It helps the virus to make more copies of itself, infect (the body’s) cells and hide from the immune system in ways that are really not very well understood at all,” Smith said.

Since Zika is a problem in places where dengue fever is prevalent, inaccurate diagnoses sometimes prevent people from knowing which disease they were exposed to. These new findings will hopefully change that, Smith said.

The researchers used Argonne’s Advanced Photon Source to conduct the study. The facility is used to conduct X-ray research, and is so large that its diameter measures just a little less than the height of the Willis Tower, said Stephen Streiffer, director of the facility.

“APS is used to produce hard X-rays — the same type you’d get in the dentist’s office,” Streiffer said. “The difference is that the APS produces X-rays which are about a billion times more intense.”

Smith and her team made a stable NS1 protein from Zika and put it into a crystal, which scatters the X-ray beam. Smith’s team uses a detector to measure the scattering, and can then figure out the structure of the molecule inside.

The researchers had already been studying structures of the proteins from West Nile and dengue, so that sped up the process, Smith said. Richard Kuhn, professor and head of Purdue’s Department of Biological Sciences, co-authored the study, which was published Monday in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

The protein they looked at was from the first strain of Zika identified in Uganda in 1947, Smith said. Knowing its structure can help scientists understand how the virus has mutated since it spread to Brazil.

“Has it gotten worse when it evolved on its way to Brazil, or has it been this bad all along?” Smith said. “Viruses are amazing at sneaking around mutating … It’s like cancer. They produce fast and make a bunch of mistakes, but just one needs to take off.

See the full article here .


There is a new project at World Community Grid [WCG] called OpenZika.
Image of the Zika virus, Image copyright John Liebler,
Rutgers Open Zika

WCG runs on your home computer or tablet on software from Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing [BOINC]. Many other scientific projects run on BOINC software.Visit WCG or BOINC, download and install the software, then at WCG attach to the OpenZika project. You will be joining tens of thousands of other “crunchers” processing computational data and saving the scientists literally thousands of hours of work at no real cost to you.

This project is directed by Dr. Alexander Perryman a senior researcher in the Freundlich lab, with extensive training in developing and applying computational methods in drug discovery and in the biochemical mechanisms of multi-drug-resistance in infectious diseases. He is a member of the Center for Emerging & Re-emerging Pathogens, in the Department of Pharmacology, Physiology, and Neuroscience, at the Rutgers University, New Jersey Medical School. Previously, he was a Research Associate in Prof. Arthur J. Olson’s lab at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), where he ran the day-to-day operations of the FightAIDS@Home project, the largest computational drug discovery project devoted to HIV/AIDS, which also runs on WCG. While in the Olson lab, he also designed, led, and ran the largest computational drug discovery project ever performed against malaria, the GO Fight Against Malaria project, also on WCG.

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