Research

Single mutation gives virus new target

Single switch

The binding sites on the surface of the of the BK polyomavirus, called capsomers, each have five monomers. Scientists found that changing just one amino acid in these monomers caused the virus to bind to an entirely different receptor on targeted cells than before. Credit: Atwood lab/Brown University

In a new study published online in the journal PLoS Pathogens, an international team of scientists showed that by swapping a single amino acid they could change the sugar to which the human BK polyomavirus will binds on the surface of cells. The BK polyomavirus lost the ability to bind its usual target sugar and instead “preferred” the same sugar as its cousin SV40 polyomavirus, which is active in monkeys.