Comment on common cold study: Dr Ben Neuman says the research is a great story...but also great science
Release Date 05 February 2015
University of Reading virologist Dr Ben Neuman provides a further lay explanation on the fascinating research undertaken by Leeds and York.
"Imagine a cell as a factory where cars are made. These operate by reading instructions that say what to build and when. A virus is a special set of instructions wrapped in a protective shell - nothing more. But the virus instructions tell the cell to completely retool the factory to the point where it can't make any more cars, and it cranks out viruses instead.
"The virus instructions tell the factory to make all the parts that you would need if you wanted to assemble a fleet of shiny new viruses, but there are no instructions to explain how to put all those pieces together. The virus parts effectively assemble themselves, and how they do it has been a big mystery that these scientists were trying to solve.
"The key turned out to be the virus instructions themselves, which naturally fold up accordion-style like a road map. They discovered that at each tip of the accordion-fold sticks to a panel that will eventually make the outer shell of the virus. When enough panels are drawn together in this way, they can bump into each other until they are able to fit together and make a new virus.
"How can we use this information to fight viruses that are built in this way? In theory, we could make a decoy to stick to the part of the virus panel that would normally lock on to a fold of the virus instructions. A drug like that is still a long way off, but this shows how understanding how a virus works can eventually lead to new ways to keep people healthy."