A team of Oxford University scientists, led by Professor Ervin Fodor, Exeter College Professorial Fellow in Experimental Pathology and Professor of Virology at Oxford’s Dunn School of Pathology, has worked out the molecular structure of a protein that is vital for the survival of the flu virus. The research, performed in collaboration with Professor Jonathan Grimes at the University of Oxford’s Division of Structural Biology and recently published in the journal Nature, presents a brand-new way of potentially inhibiting the flu virus and could pave the way for the development of new drugs and flu treatments.
The team used several different techniques to look at the arrangement of atoms within a protein that the human flu virus uses to make new copies of its genetic information. Without this multifunctional protein, known as a polymerase, the flu virus cannot survive. A key finding of the study is that the polymerase can exist in two forms, a monomer and a dimer. It is only when the polymerase dimerises that specific functions are switched on. The research team saw the dimeric form of the polymerase was formed by a specific region of protein and when the region was disrupted, the polymerase could not work.