Scientists have known for decades that a flu virus in a human body can be a lot different than viruses grown in a lab. As opposed to the uniform, spherical, textbook-style viruses in a petri dish, in humans they vary in shape and composition — particularly the abundance of certain proteins — even if they are genetically very similar.
It has been difficult however, to study the exact number and location of these proteins on any individual virus. The go-to method in cell biology involves attaching a fluorescent protein to the area of interest; the light makes the area easier to image and study.
But trying to attach fluorescent proteins to the molecules that make up a flu virus is like trying to get a third person on a tandem bike: There just isn’t room. The fluorescent proteins are about the same size as the flu proteins; introducing such a relatively large element throws the virus out of whack… Continue reading.