Researchers capture a virus about to invade a cell

Duke University scientists were able to capture the frantic movements of a virus trying to infect a cell in real time. The video shows part of the process that is usually very difficult to understand. Ultimately, such an approach could help to better understand how pathogens infect our cells. Details of the study are published in the journal Nature Methods.

Track a virus in real time

In order to replicate, viruses must enter our cells as they develop a set of barriers to protect against it. In the gut, for example, they can defend themselves against these attacks by secreting a layer of mucus to protect themselves against these attacks, but viruses sometimes manage to get in anyway. how do they work ? This is the question Kévin Welsher and his team at Duke University are asking themselves.

Observing such a process is not easy. In fact, not only are viruses much smaller than cells, but they also move very quickly. To overcome these problems, the team developed a new method that essentially combines two microscopes. First, the idea is to “tag” a virus with a fluorescent chemical compound. A tracking microscope then feeds a laser over the tagged virus update its position in “real time”. (every millionth of a second). Meanwhile, the second microscope is recording three-dimensional images of the cells surrounding the virus.

Frantic movements

To test their approach, the researchers used a version of vesicular stomatitis, which causes a low-grade fever in humans and other animals.

As you can see, the video shows us the virus performs frenzied movements at breakneck speed, accidentally touching the surface of the surrounding cells. To use a home invasion metaphor, the moment captured on video “would be the part where the burglar hasn’t broken the window yet”explains Courtney “CJ” Johnson, co-author of the study.

Unfortunately, researchers can still follow a virus particle for only a few minutes before the fluorescent compound disappears. Finally, the idea would be to develop lighter and more durable tracking compounds, with the aim of being able to track these movements for tens of minutes to capture the whole process. In the future, this incredible technique could then help to better understand how viruses infect cells.

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