New insights into the structure of filamentous phages could lead to new applications in biotechnology

Researchers at the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Massey University and Nanophage Technologies, New Zealand, have made groundbreaking discoveries about the structure of phages, which are viruses that infect bacteria. This newfound knowledge holds immense potential for harnessing phages in various applications within biotechnology.

Phages have long been recognized as valuable tools in biotechnology and medicine due to their ability to infect bacteria. One notable application of phages is phage display, a technique widely used in drug discovery. Phage display involves fusing a gene fragment of interest to a phage gene responsible for producing a specific phage coat protein. This fusion protein is then displayed on the surface of the phage, allowing it to be analyzed and evaluated for its biological activity.

Although phage display and other applications have proven successful, scientists have lacked a comprehensive understanding of the structure of filamentous phages, a commonly used type of phage. Filamentous phages are elongated and slender, enabling the display of numerous proteins on their surface. However, until now, their precise structure has remained elusive.

In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Nature Communications, Dr. Vicki Gold from the University of Exeter has provided the first glimpse into the structure of filamentous phages. Dr. Gold stated that phages represent a highly promising and rapidly expanding area of research with a wide range of present and potential applications. By unraveling the structure of filamentous phages, this research will contribute to the advancement of phage-based applications in the future.

The challenge in visualizing filamentous phages arose from their considerable length, which hindered complete imaging. To overcome this obstacle, researchers developed miniature versions of the phages that were approximately ten times shorter. These reduced-scale phages resembled straight nanorods rather than entangled spaghetti-like filaments. By utilizing high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy, scientists were able to image these smaller versions in their entirety.

The publication of this research in Nature Communications marks a significant milestone in our understanding of phages and paves the way for improved applications of phages in biotechnology. The newfound insights into the structure of filamentous phages will undoubtedly fuel further innovation and drive the development of novel uses for these viruses in the fields of biotechnology and medicine.

Source: University of Exeter

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