Health

The most detailed image of the Zika virus ever captured might reveal a way to fight the birth-defect causing disease

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Miami-Dade mosquito control inspector Yasser “Jazz” Compagines sprays a chemical mist into a storm drain, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2016, in Miami Beach, Fla.Associated Press/Alan Diaz

  • The Zika virus that spread rapidly in 2016 is still a major problem in much of Latin America and the Caribbean, and it could continue to spread.
  • If a pregnant woman gets infected, her baby could be born with neurological damage and microcephaly, a condition characterized by a small head and underdeveloped brain.
  • In order to make it easier to develop anti-viral drugs and a potential vaccine for Zika, researchers just created the most detailed three-dimensional image of the virus ever seen.

Zika doesn’t dominate headlines the way it did when it suddenly became widespread in the Americas in 2016.

But the virus is still a serious problem. If a pregnant woman is infected, Zika virus can cause babies to be born with neurological damage and microcephaly (a particularly small head and underdeveloped brain).

 The CDC still says that pregnant women, their partners, and people considering pregnancy should postpone travel to large parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.

Researchers are desperately searching for a way to fight the virus. That effort requires a better understanding of the structure of Zika, which would makes it easier to design vaccines or anti-viral drugs.

On Tuesday, a team of researchers published the highest-resolution image ever created of the Zika virus:

Zika virus most detailed imageThis high resolution image shows the structure of Zika virus. The three envelope glycoproteins (E) are colored in yellow, blue and red and the glycan is colored in green.Sevvana et al.

To create the highly accurate three-dimensional model, the researchers used electron microscopy to capture thousands of images of the atomic structure of the virus, all of which could be combined into a 3D image.

Since Zika is more stable than related viruses in the flavivirus family — like dengue, yellow fever, and Japanese encephalitis virus — it was possible to create an especially accurate model.

This model reveals the parts of the atomic structure that might be vulnerable.

“With the higher resolution, it is now possible to efficiently design vaccines and engineer anti-viral compounds that inhibit the virus,”  Michael G. Rossmann, a structural biologist at Purdue University and an author of the new study, said in a statement.

Researchers still aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to design a vaccine for Zika. But this new model will at least aid that work.

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