French scientists unlock clearer picture of flu virus machine

The complete structure of the flu virus polymerase
The complete structure of the flu virus polymerase | © EMBL/P.Riedinger

Scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Grenoble, France, may now better understand the flu virus after obtaining the first complete structure of one of the virus' key machines.

This finding could be instrumental in developing new medications to treat serious flu infections and fight flu pandemics.

The machine, the influenza virus polymerase, carries out two crucial tasks for the virus – makes copies of the viral RNA and reads out the instructions in the genetic material to make the viral messenger RNA.

Researchers used X-ray crystallography to determine the atomic structure of the entire polymerase from influenza B and influenza A. 

"The flu polymerase was discovered 40 years ago, so there are hundreds of papers out there trying to fathom how it works, but only now that we have the complete structure can we really begin to understand it," Stephen Cusack, head of EMBL Grenoble, said. "This doesn't mean we now have all the answers. In fact, we have as many new questions as answers, but at least now we have a solid basis on which to probe further."

Cusack and his colleagues want to get further looks of the polymerase in different states, as the machine can be flexible and change shape.

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