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DNA Viruses

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 28 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Dna Virus Viruses Effects Body Research

Most people encounter viruses at some point throughout their lifetime, which can leave them feeling miserable. We probably don't give a lot of thought to the molecular aspects of viruses and instead, just focus on getting rid of the painful symptoms when a virus strikes and compromises our health. If you stop for a minute and think about it, however, a lot is happening in our bodies when a virus invades. All of the symptoms you feel result from the collective effects of a virus as it inflicts your body's cells.

How Do Viruses Work?

A virus essentially inserts its own genetic material into a host cell and causes changes in the function of the host cell through the virus' genes. The host cell may lose many different abilities, such as control over its growth, its ability to divide and it may also show chromosomal abnormalities.

Like humans, viruses are composed of genetic material. In the case of a DNA virus, this genetic material is DNA. A DNA virus uses a copying mechanism, which relies on an enzyme called DNA polymerase - an important enzyme in DNA replication. DNA viruses are grouped according to the Baltimore classification system and there are more than twenty virus families and nearly a hundred genera. The viruses themselves include an enormous range, from more basic ones to highly complex viruses.

Different Kinds of DNA Viruses

There are numerous different groups of DNA viruses, with varying structures and effects. One group is herpes viruses, which are somewhat complex and have over one hundred genes. One of the herpes family of viruses is the Epstein Barr virus, which has been associated with a rare form of cancer. Epstein Barr virus is also the virus responsible for glandular fever - formally known as infectious mononucleosis, which is commonly seen in adolescents and college-aged adults. Pox viruses have several hundred genes and are effective at replicating once in a host. Papilloma viruses are those that cause warts and they are also associated with cancer. You have also likely heard of the Hepatitis B virus, which is actually a DNA tumour virus. There are many more DNA viruses but they all share a common link, which is that their genetic material is comprised of DNA.

Creating a DNA Virus

In some interesting research, scientists in the United States actually created a DNA virus with a new method that appears to be promising. The development of the virus could potentially lead to technologies for the production of cleaner forms of energy or even novel ways to buffer the effects of pollution. To create the virus, researchers put together and selectively cut segments of DNA. The process itself took approximately two weeks, which is not particularly long given the potential of the development. One exciting aspect of the research is that scientists believe that their ability to rapidly make longer pieces of DNA can allow them to improve understanding of specific genes. Their understanding could then be a turning point for the ability to eventually modify more complicated organisms.

While DNA viruses have many different effects in the body, our knowledge of their structure and mechanisms of infection can help us to learn more about treating diseases caused by DNA viruses. Better still, research has suggested that the creation of synthetic viruses can provide possibilities for addressing concerns such as pollution and the quest for better forms of energy provision.

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