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Researchers Explain How Viruses Spread

Update Date: Jun 10, 2014 10:11 AM EDT

Researchers have reportedly solved a biochemical and molecular mystery that has confounded scientists for long. In a new article, a team of researchers explained how RNA molecules found in certain viruses mimic the shape of other molecules as part of a strategy to 'hijack' the cell that results in producing more viruses. 

Viruses are worldwide threats to health and agriculture. To multiply, viruses infect a cell and take over that cell's biochemical machinery. Thus, understanding the fundamental molecular processes used by viruses to conquer cells is important, the press release added. 

Researchers explained the three-dimensional structure of a viral RNA that mimics one of the most abundant RNAs found in the cell. 

Up until now, researchers were aware of the fact that viral RNA was a molecular mimic. However, exactly how it mimics  or how it switches between different structures was not thoroughly explained. 

Researchers used a technique called x-ray crystallography and visualized the molecule's complex three-dimensional structure to high resolution. They discovered that the viral RNA has a 'two-faced' architecture: one face is a mimic of the cell's RNA, the other face is less similar and this probably gives the ability to perform several tasks during infection, the press release added.

According to researchers, the behavior may be widespread hence the research could be applied to many different viruses. 

The release added that the understanding of how a viral RNA can mimic other molecules as part of a strategy to 'hijack' a cell may help scientists develop treatments or vaccines against infectious diseases.

The article has been published in the scientific journal Nature.

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