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Scientists have known for a century that viruses attack and sometimes kill bacteria, much the way humans come down with the flu. But only recently have they begun to understand the biochemistry that happens as bacteria and virus strive for competitive advantage, with far-reaching implications for medicine and more.
A decade ago, "nobody thought that bacteria had sophisticated, adaptive immune systems," said Blake Wiedenheft, associate professor in Montana State University's Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the College of Letters and Science and College of Agriculture.
Researchers - Mechanism - Bacteria - Molecules - Viruses
Since then, however, researchers have discovered a mechanism by which bacteria wield machine-like molecules that detect and destroy invading viruses. This immune response is called CRISPR, an acronym describing how bacteria incorporate fragments of viral DNA into their own genome as a way to recognize and fight viruses in the future.
For Wiedenheft, an internationally recognized expert in the field, the growing knowledge of CRISPR raised other questions: Have viruses found ways to subvert the bacterial defense? And if so, how?
Viruses - Wiedenheft - Repertoire - Strategies - Detection
"Viruses are formidable," Wiedenheft said. "And we're starting to learn about the creative repertoire of strategies they have evolved to evade detection but their hosts."
In his team's most recent finding, published in a scientific paper in the journal Molecular Cell on March 11, Wiedenheft describes not only new details of a CRISPR defense in nature, but also a discovery that expands scientists' understanding of how resourceful viruses are.
Electron - Microscope - Image - Processing - Techniques
Using a powerful electron microscope and cutting-edge image processing techniques, Wiedenheft and his collaborator, Scripps Research Institute associate professor Gabriel Lander, could see a complex CRISPR molecule respond to viral DNA by unfurling a molecular arm that Wiedenheft likens to a "beacon." Lander and Wiedenheft are lead co-authors of the paper.
The beacon is like "a red flashing light that signals danger," serving as a biochemical...
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