Viral Videos: Manoharan lab captures first images of viruses in action

October 9, 2019
Viral self-assembly

Louis Pasteur remains a titan of biology and medicine. His insights into the microbial world saved countless lives that would otherwise have been lost to cholera, or to rabies, or to food poisoning. Yet Pasteur went to his grave a failure on one front: he couldn’t get his hands on rabies.

Pasteur successfully pioneered the rabies vaccine, painstakingly extracting saliva from rabid dogs, but he was never able to find the root cause of the disease. Why not?

Rabies is caused by a virus. And viruses are very, very, very small. Much too small to see, until now.

This week, Vinny Manoharan, the co-director of Quantitative Biology at Harvard, released the first ever images of viruses assembling themselves. Manoharan and his team developed a new optical technique capable of seeing viruses, even though viruses are smaller than the wavelength of light.

Our technique gives the first window into how viruses assemble and reveals the kinetics and pathways in quantitative detail,” says Manoharan, the Wagner Family Professor of Chemical Engineering and Professor of Physics at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

By watching viruses in action, it may be possible to determine the molecular logic of self-assembly and infection. These insights could support better synthetic drug-delivery strategies or create new strategies to prevent infection.

“Pasteur would be jealous,” says BN Queenan, Executive Director of Research at Harvard’s NSF-Simons Center for Quantitative Biology. “And if you’re making Pasteur jealous, you’re on the right track.”


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