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U.S. researchers decode structure of HIV genome

2009-08-08 15:55 BJT

The structure of an entire HIV genome has been decoded for the first time by researchers at the University of North Carolina, the university said in a press release on Thursday.

The results have widespread implications for understanding the strategies that HIV uses to infect humans.

The study, published in the Aug. 6 issue of the journal Nature, also opens the door for further research which could accelerate the development of antiviral drugs.

HIV, like the viruses that cause influenza, hepatitis C and polio, carries its genetic information as single-stranded RNA rather than double-stranded DNA.

The information encoded in DNA is almost entirely in the sequence of its building blocks, which are called nucleotides. But the information encoded in RNA is more complex.

Prior to this new work, researchers had modeled only small regions of the HIV RNA genome, said Kevin Weeks, who led the study.

Actually, the HIV RNA genome is very large, composed of two strands of nearly 10,000 nucleotides each, according to their results.

They also found that the RNA structures influence multiple steps in the HIV infectivity cycle.

The study is the key to unlocking additional roles of RNA genomes that are important to the lifecycle of viruses like HIV in the future.

For example, one approach is to change the RNA sequence and see if the virus notices.

"If it doesn't grow as well when you disrupt the virus with mutations, then you know you've mutated or affected something that was important to the virus," said the researchers.

Editor: Zhao Yanchen | Source: Xinhua