How do Viruses get Around?
Author: Research
Posted: October 10, 2013

It's that time of year again: cold and flu season. We all know viruses use us to get around, and they're known to hitch rides on other animals, too. But what about those other viruses, and there's literally more of them than you can imagine, that don't infect people, pigs, and birds?

New results from the Center for Life in Extreme Environments at Portland State University, just published in the
Journal of Virology
, now provide a clue as to how this might happen.

Graduate student James Laidler and Professor Kenneth Stedman, Department of Biology at PSU, have been in hot pursuit of fossilized viruses, and they’ve unearthed some interesting facts about how viruses can survive transport over vast distances. In a recent study, Laidler and Stedman managed to inactivate known viruses by coating them in silica, basically a layer of glass, as might occur in a siliceous volcanic hot spring. Then the scientists removed the silica coating and found that the viruses were once again capable of infecting cells.

Even more surprising, they found that the silica-coated viruses were resistant to dehydration, while non-coated viruses were completely destroyed. This result could explain puzzling data on virus distribution, particularly viruses that inhabit hot springs and are potentially spread by geyser activity or volcanic eruption. Once encased within silica, these viruses could be carried into neighboring ecosystems—or even between continents—without the need for an intermediate virus carrier.

Because this technique could provide a novel way to preserve vaccines, which is particularly challenging in many parts of the developing world where refrigerated transportation is difficult or unavailable, a patent application was filed this past January.

This research was done in collaboration with Drs. Keith Bahjat and Jessica Shugart of the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute in the Providence Cancer Center in Portland, and Dr. Sherry L. Cady, Chief Science Officer of the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory at PNNL in Richland, WA, and Portland State University is pursuing intellectual property based on these results.

Read a profile of Dr. Stedman's work at: Going Viral

Laidler, J., Shugart, J., Cady, S., Bahjat, K., Stedman, K. "Reversible Inactivation and Desiccation Tolerance of Silicified Viruses." J. Virol. 10.1128/JVL.02825-13.