by Julia Newman ’19
New studies on the packing of DNA in viruses show that it sometimes behaves like a fluid and other times like a solid, similar to a tube of toothpaste or a cup of sand. For this reason, it was difficult in the past for scientists to determine how DNA is packed within a viral shell. However, it turns out that viruses actually have a structure similar to a motor that is responsible for properly packing the molecules, though the process is not always efficient, and sometimes gets jammed. In addition, it was previously thought that molecules of DNA would best pack together when the segments attracted one another, but these studies proved just the opposite; the repulsion between DNA segments actually allows for more orderly packing within a virus. These discoveries concerning DNA packing could give vaccines a new target and prove to be revolutionary in preventing or curing viral infections in the future.
University of California at San Diego, How DNA can take on the properties of sand or
toothpaste. Science Daily (2016).