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Scientists find how viruses spread

22nd January 2010

Researchers have captured on camera the way viruses spread around the body by looking for 'unoccupied' cells.

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The team at Imperial College London recorded how the vaccinia virus bounced off occupied cells in its search for an unoccupied one.

Once the virus found an empty cell, it burrowed inside and marked the outside of the cell with protein. This marker was left in place as a sign to other viruses that the cell was occupied.

Viruses can spread by going into cells and taking over its workings in order to replicate themselves. Once many copies have been produced, the cell explodes and the viruses spread out to neighbouring cells to carry on replicating.

Scientists have been confused as to how some viruses could replicate so quickly. The team, headed by Professor Geoffrey Smith, found a way the viruses could 'spread more efficiently'.

Professor Smith said: "This effectively says to additional virus particles trying to infect the cell 'I'm infected already, there is no point coming here, you need to go elsewhere' - and remarkably the virus particles are physically repelled until they find an uninfected cell.

Professor Smith said their findings could lead to new ways of slowing the spread of viruses. "This fundamentally changes how we think about virus dissemination and similar strategies may very well be exploited by many viruses," he added.

 

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