Highlights of our Work
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Viruses are the cause of many human diseases, from the common cold to AIDS, and medicine is continuously searching for better ways to battle viruses through vaccination or medication. Detailed knowledge of the life cycles of viruses should be useful in the treatment of viral diseases. A key focus of investigations is the virus capsid, a protein coat that protects the viral genome, but also triggers release of the genome and other viral factors upon contact with the body's cells. X-ray crystallography has resolved the average structures of many types of virus capsids, providing the basis for detailed investigations, for example by means of molecular dynamics methods, of capsid dynamical properties, e.g., in assembly and disassembly. Unfortunately, due to their large size most virus capsids are beyond the reach of molecular dynamics simulations, with one notable exception (see the March 2006 highlight "Simulating an Entire Life Form"). This earlier simulation allowed researchers to develop and test a method for coarse-grained molecular dynamics simulations that glosses over atomic detail and, thereby, permits microsecond descriptions of entire viral particles. As reported recently (see also journal cover) such simulations, employing the program NAMD, were applied to the empty capsids of several viruses. These simulations revealed a variety of behaviors, from rapid collapse to high stability, depending on the strength of interactions between the proteins from which capsids are built. The new method offers unprecedented views of capsid dynamics that may assist in battling viral diseases. More information on the simulations can be found on our virus web page.