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Replication and assembly

The replication mechanism depends on the viral genome. DNA viruses usually use host cell proteins and enzymes to make additional DNA that is transcribed to messenger RNA (mRNA), which is then used to direct protein synthesis. RNA viruses usually use the RNA core as a template for synthesis of viral genomic RNA and mRNA. The viral mRNA directs the host cell to synthesize viral enzymes and capsid proteins, and assemble new virions. Of course, there are exceptions to this pattern. If a host cell does not provide the enzymes necessary for viral replication, viral genes supply the information to direct synthesis of the missing proteins. Retroviruses, such as HIV, have an RNA genome that must be reverse transcribed into DNA, which then is incorporated into the host cell genome. They are within group VI of the Baltimore classification scheme. To convert RNA into DNA, retroviruses must contain genes that encode the virus-specific enzyme reverse transcriptase that transcribes an RNA template to DNA. Reverse transcription never occurs in uninfected host cells—the needed enzyme reverse transcriptase is only derived from the expression of viral genes within the infected host cells. The fact that HIV produces some of its own enzymes not found in the host has allowed researchers to develop drugs that inhibit these enzymes. These drugs, including the reverse transcriptase inhibitor AZT    , inhibit HIV replication by reducing the activity of the enzyme without affecting the host’s metabolism. This approach has led to the development of a variety of drugs used to treat HIV and has been effective at reducing the number of infectious virions (copies of viral RNA) in the blood to non-detectable levels in many HIV-infected individuals.

Egress

The last stage of viral replication is the release of the new virions produced in the host organism, where they are able to infect adjacent cells and repeat the replication cycle. As you’ve learned, some viruses are released when the host cell dies, and other viruses can leave infected cells by budding through the membrane without directly killing the cell.

Art connection

The illustration shows the steps of an influenza virus infection. In step 1, influenza virus becomes attached to a target epithelial cell. In step 2, the cell engulfs the virus by endocytosis, and the virus becomes encased in the cell’s plasma membrane. In step 3, the membrane dissolves, and the viral contents are released into the cytoplasm. Viral mRNA enters the nucleus, where it is replicated by viral RNA polymerase. In step 4, viral mRNA exits to the cytoplasm, where it is used to make viral proteins. In step 5, new viral particles are released into the extracellular fluid. The cell, which is not killed in the process, continues to make new virus.
In influenza virus infection, glycoproteins attach to a host epithelial cell. As a result, the virus is engulfed. RNA and proteins are made and assembled into new virions.

Influenza virus is packaged in a viral envelope that fuses with the plasma membrane. This way, the virus can exit the host cell without killing it. What advantage does the virus gain by keeping the host cell alive?

Watch a video on viruses, identifying structures, modes of transmission, replication, and more.

Different hosts and their viruses

As you’ve learned, viruses are often very specific as to which hosts and which cells within the host they will infect. This feature of a virus makes it specific to one or a few species of life on Earth. On the other hand, so many different types of viruses exist on Earth that nearly every living organism has its own set of viruses that tries to infect its cells. Even the smallest and simplest of cells, prokaryotic bacteria, may be attacked by specific types of viruses.

Questions & Answers

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Anaphase
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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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