The Zika virus was responsible for one of the major global health crisis in 2015 and 2016 leaving thousands of babies with severe birth defects in its sway. Recently scientists have been able to capture the most accurate and detailed image of the virus which could be leveraged for developing effective vaccinations and treatment approaches for fighting the virus. The research outcomes which were published in the ‘Structure’ journal on Tuesday involved combination of multiple two-dimensional images for construction of a three-dimensional model of the structure of Zika virus.
The research team utilized electron microscopy technique which transmits beams of electrons through a particle to obtain a projected image. Since the wavelength of electrons is extremely lesser than that of light and electrons have the size that is almost same to the distance between atoms, scientists are able to perceive intricate details in the structure. The study has been commended for accomplishing such a level of granularity which was not accomplished by previous studies. The granularity enabled a high-resolution image of the virus captured till now depicting a protective outer shell.
The detailed visualization of the virus’ structure would enable researchers to identify areas on the surface of the virus where drug molecules could attach flexibly. These features could assist scientists in understanding the interaction of antiviral drugs and vaccines with the Zika virus. Zika is included in the flavivirus family which also includes notable afflictions such as Japanese encephalitis and dengue. The comparison of Zika’s structure with its relatives depicted notable differences at a specific area on the surface of Zika termed as the glycan loop. The glycan loop determines the type of cell infected by a virus and thereby the symptoms caused by the virus.
According to one of the authors of the study and microbiologist at Purdue University, Michael G. Rossmann, the microscopic variations could explain the development of dengue into hemorrhagic fever in certain cases. However, the findings of the study would not have a prominent impact on prevention of Zika in the short term owing to the radical decline in infections and concerns of ethics regarding vaccine testing in healthy people.