A mutation as minute as swapping just one amino acid can completely change the target that a virus will bind to on a victim cell — potentially shifting what kind of cell and eventually what kind of organism a virus could infect.
In a new study published online in the journal PLoS Pathogens, an international team of scientists showed that by swapping a single amino acid they could change the sugar to which the human BK polyomavirus will binds on the surface of cells. The BK polyomavirus lost the ability to bind its usual target sugar and instead “preferred” the same sugar as its cousin SV40 polyomavirus, which is active in monkeys.
The researchers were working in cell cultures with safe pseudoviruses, which cannot spread, so they did not show that the pseudovirus changed its infectivity from one species to another, but the finding provides a novel demonstration of how easily the binding target of a virus can change as its structure mutates and evolves.
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