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Sharon Crary: Protein-RNA interactions in Ebola virus

Infection with ebolavirus causes a hemorrhagic fever (EHF) with case fatality ratios among the highest of any known communicable disease . With no available antiviral therapies for EHF, patient isolation, which provides no hope to the afflicted individual, remains the only effective means of dealing with an epidemic of ebolavirus . While natural outbreaks of the manifestation of this virus in humans appears to be localized to sub-Saharan Africa, the potential for the use of ebolavirus as a weapon of biological terrorism has resulted in the classification of the virus both as a Select Agent and as a Category A Biological Terrorism Agent. As such, research with the virus is highly regulated (and therefore relatively scarce). Viruses are infectious agents with either RNA or DNA as their genetic material. The nucleic acid used by ebolavirus is RNA , and this RNA is a single, long piece. Viral genetic material is always housed in a protein coating. The number of proteins encoded by different viruses and the ways in which these proteins are associated with the genetic material is diverse. It is known that the genomic RNA of ebolavirus must always be tightly associated with some subset of viral proteins. The proteins that the RNA keeps around itself throughout its lifecycle are called the nucleocapsid proteins and this RNA -protein complex is called the nucleocapsid. In ebolavirus, the nucleoprotein (NP) is the major protein component of these RNA -protein complexes. The mechanism by which NP specifically coats ebolavirus RNA is unknown. We are working towards the delineation of the RNA -protein interactions that govern this essential step in the viral lifecycle.