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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Students and faculty work to know more about HIV

By Julie Jay

U students and faculty are doing their part to discover more about HIV through continual research in U labs, and one student’s work has been recognized in the science journal Biochemistry.

Brian Kelly, a graduate student in biochemistry, said his research is focused on promoting understanding of protein architecture and how it relates to viral core assembly.

“My recent publication?was a small piece toward understanding the atomic-level details of core assembly and what changes between the immature and mature states,” he said.

His research coincides with research by Wes Sundquist and Chris Hill, professors in the U department of biochemistry. They collaborate together to “understand the structure of the virus, why it is organized the way it is and understand how the virus buds from cells and becomes an envelope virus,” Sundquist said.

The research in the professors’ lab focuses on identifying what specific host proteins HIV-1 usurps in order to incorporate the host membrane in a viral envelope.

HIV and other retroviruses acquire their envelope, or viral membrane, by incorporating part of the host cell’s membrane. This process, termed “budding,” is an integral pathway for the production of new viruses.

Viruses alone are incapable of reproducing new viral particles and therefore have to hijack various components of the host cell in order to replicate.

These targeted proteins are normally involved in the creation of internal membrane compartments called vesicles.

HIV-1 utilizes a specific protein complex, termed “Gag,” capable of interacting with the host proteins that facilitate vesicle formation. Sundquist’s group genetically alters the expression of specific proteins in the vesicle formation pathway to determine whether the absence of that protein affects viral budding.

Hill’s group then determines the structure of these proteins and characterizes how the Gag protein may bind and interact with them. His graduate students develop methods to grow crystals of these proteins and then identify their atomic arrangement by bombarding them with X-rays.

The overreaching goal of these two groups may reveal new mechanisms for treating and preventing HIV-1 infection.

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