Using a supercomputer to crunch massive amounts of data, researchers say they have decoded the structure that contains and protects HIV’s genetic material. Their results potentially open a new route of attack against the structure, called the capsid, which is essential to the virus’s survival.
“The capsid is critically important for HIV replication, so knowing its structure in detail could lead us to new drugs that can treat or prevent the infection,” said senior author Peijun Zhang, associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “This approach has the potential to be a powerful alternative to our current HIV therapies, which work by targeting certain enzymes, but drug resistance is an enormous challenge due to the virus’ high mutation rate.”
Their task was no easy one. HIV’s gene-containing protein shell is comprised of nonuniform combinations of five- and six-subunit protein structures that link together to form an asymmetric shape. To get an accurate model of the capsid, they would need to piece together each of the 3 million to 4 million atoms that comprise it.
The harvest season seems to whiz by every year in northern latitudes. Just as the time comes to sink a fork into early spring’s peppery locally grown lettuce and asparagus, the market’s crates are already brimming with winter squash. And the juicy tomatoes that yesterday took a quick ride from a nearby farm start logging thousands of miles from farm to table.
Unfortunately, the only two options for most consumers looking to buy fresh produce during the cold months are either to get them shipped from warmer regions or from greenhouses closer by. Efficiencies in the agricultural and shipping systems being what they are, fruits and vegetables grown in warmer climes—by necessity picked before they ripen to prevent spoilage in transit—cost less than premium-priced food from the greenhouse.
Either way, each of those February cucumbers is the product of a significant energy investment—whether it’s producing the fertilizer, burning fuel in shipping, or lighting and heating commercial greenhouses.
More and more, nature is becoming the wellspring from which engineers working on efficient robotic locomotion drink. Those creating machine flight are mimicking the action of bats, birds and insects. To overcome terrestrial obstacles, they are developing mechanical horses and canines. For the sea, they’re working on robotic jellyfish, rays and others.
One inspiration for future generations of agile robots is coming from an unlikely source: the tails of seahorses.
The marine creature’s prehensile appendage—capable of curling more than 360 degrees in on itself and gripping vegetation—displays unique mechanical properties that engineers at the University of California, San Diego, think could be the key to flexible, agile robots.
“The seahorse is an intriguing creature,” says Michael Porter, a UC San Diego materials science doctoral student who is leading the research. “We’re looking at this animal for both biological study and the engineering of materials.”