The award winning Russian based group ‘Visual Science‘ has used their expertise to create a 3D model of what the infamous Zika virus may look like. Ivan Konstantinov and his team created the 3D model based on their previous expertise working with related viruses like Dengue fever, Yellow fever and Western Nile fever. There is limited published data on the virus structure, hence the reason for drawing on structural data on the related viruses to Zika. Computational biologists from the scientific modeling department of Visual Science used methods of structural bioinformatics to predict the possible structures of Zika proteins. These methods are widely used not only in fundamental research but also in drug development and molecular interaction studies.
Whilst the virus resembles the Dengue virus in structure it behaves very differently in infected individuals, causing Zika Fever with potentially complications of microcephaly in developing foetuses and potentially Guillain—Barré syndrome in adults. In February of this year the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Zika Fever an international health emergency after the emergence of the data linking the virus to microcephaly. The virus is currently sweeping through the Americas, with an estimated one and a half million being infected to date. Currently there is no treatment for it or a vaccine, though experts suggest a vaccine maybe developed by late 2016.
Zika virus belongs to the same systematic group, Flaviviridae, as the hepatitis C, Dengue, yellow fever, West Nile and Chikungunya viruses. The virion of flaviviruses has a diameter of 50 nm, which is approximately two and a half times less than the diameters of HIV or influenza viruses. The viral particle includes three types of proteins: E, M and C. Surface proteins E and M form a regular spherical shell and allow the virus to enter the cell during infection. Several domains of the surface proteins are integrated into the lipid membrane which is taken by the virus from the endoplasmic reticulum of the host cell. The major surface protein E is glycosylated (in the model — dark grey spots on the surface of the virion). Apart from the structural proteins C, E and M, flaviviruses genome encodes seven proteins not present in the viral particle. These non-structural proteins coordinate viral replication and inhibit immune response. In the Zika model all the virus-encoded proteins are shown in the shades of blue and green, and the components taken from the cell are shown in grey.
The model of Zika virus is a part of the non-commercial educational project Viral Park, which was launched by the Visual Science in 2009.