Washington: Certain kinds of viruses such as those that cause the common cold, SARS, hepatitis, and encephalitis, copy themselves using a unique mechanism, a team of Penn State University scientists has found.The discovery sheds light on a previously identified, but never-before-understood region of an enzyme associated with the process of replicating genetic material.The research is an important step toward the improvement of existing vaccines, as well as toward the design of vaccines against viruses that have eluded vaccination strategies in the past.All organisms use enzymes called polymerases to “read” and copy their genetic material. While the genetic material of viruses that cause diseases such as SARS, influenza, and polio is composed of single-stranded RNA, the genetic material of many other viruses, such as those that cause herpes and conjunctivitis, is composed of double-stranded DNA.Regardless of whether the genetic material is DNA or RNA, viruses hijack a host cell`s machinery, forcing it to replicate the virus`s own genetic material and, ultimately, to make copies of the virus that will spread to and infect other cells.The polymerases of many organisms, including DNA viruses, are known to have a “cupped right hand” structure -- a configuration of atoms that can be described as resembling a palm, fingers, and thumb.
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