Shape-shifting molecule tricks viruses into mutating themselves to death

Apr 20, 2015

Credit: Sam Peng

By Science Daily

Newly developed spectroscopy method is helping to clarify the poorly understood molecular process by which an anti-HIV drug induces lethal mutations in the virus’s genetic material. The findings from the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could bolster efforts to develop the next generation of anti-viral treatments.

Viruses can mutate rapidly in order to adapt to environmental pressure. This feature also helps them become resistant to anti-viral drugs. But scientists have developed therapeutic anti-viral agents for HIV, Hepatitis C, and influenza using a strategy called lethal mutagenesis.

This strategy seeks to extinguish viruses by forcing their already high mutation rates above an intolerable threshold. If viruses experience too many mutations, they can’t properly manage their genetic material.

“They can’t replicate and so are quickly eliminated,” said Andrei Tokmakoff, the Henry G. Gale Distinguished Service Professor in Chemistry at UChicago. “In order to make this work, you need a stealth mutagen. You need something sneaky, something that the virus isn’t going to recognize as a problem.”


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2 comments on “Shape-shifting molecule tricks viruses into mutating themselves to death

  • This reminds me of going after your political opponent on their ostensible maximum strength.

    I have had an anti-AIDS idea since the 80s. I sent it around without result. Perhaps the world will be interested now. In evolution, diseases usually evolve to become benign. This makes it easy for them to find new hosts and it means they don’t kill their hosts. You could think of this as the disease becoming domesticated.

    What if you artificially domesticated HIV, then let it loose. It should do better than wild HIV. It would tie up sites freezing out wild HIV.



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  • But scientists have developed therapeutic anti-viral agents for HIV, Hepatitis C, and influenza using a strategy called lethal mutagenesis.

    That sounds like an interesting strategy! If you can’t grind them down, wind them up until they fall apart!



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