New insights into the structure of phages will enable researchers to develop new uses for viruses in biotechnology.
Phages are viruses that infect bacteria, allowing them to be exploited as tools in biotechnology and medicine. Now, for the first time, researchers at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Massey University and Nanophage Technologies, New Zealand, have determined what a commonly used form of phages looks like, which will help researchers design better uses in the future.
One common use of a phage is to display phages, which is a useful tool in drug discovery. Phage display works by attaching a critical genetic segment to the phage gene that makes one of the phage envelope proteins. The new coat protein containing the bound protein appears on the surface of the phage, where it can be titrated and tested for biological activity.
There are billions of species of phages. Phage display often uses a type of phage known as a filamentous phage, so called because it is long and thin, which makes display of many proteins across its surface possible. Although display of phages and other applications have proven successful, until now scientists did not know what this type of bacterium looked like.
For the first time, the structure of a filamentous phage has been revealed by Dr Vicki Gold of the University of Exeter, in a paper published in the journal Phage. Nature Communications. She said: “Bages are part of a very exciting and growing area of research, with a range of current and potential applications. However, until now, we did not have a complete picture of what filamentous phages looked like. We have now presented the first view, and understanding this will help us Improving phage applications in the future.”
Because filamentous phages are so long, scientists previously failed to capture a complete picture. To image the phage, the researchers created smaller versions, which are about 10 times shorter, and which look like straight nano-sticks rather than tangled spaghetti-like strands. This mini version was small enough to be fully imaged using a high-resolution electron microscope.