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Viral capsomere structure, surface processes and growth kinetics in the crystallization of macromolecular crystals visualized by in situ atomic force microscopy


In situ atomic force microscopy (AFM) was used to investigate surface evolution during the growth of single crystals of turnip yellow mosaic virus (TYMV), cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) and glucose isomerase. Growth of these crystals proceeded by two-dimensional (2D) nucleation. For glucose isomerase, from supersaturation dependencies of tangential step rates and critical step length, the kinetic coefficients of the steps and the surface free energy of the step edge were calculated for different crystallographic directions. The molecular structure of the step edges, the adsorption of individual virus particles and their aggregates, and the initial stages of formation of 2D nuclei on the surfaces of TYMV and CMV crystals were recorded. The surfaces of individual TYMV virions within crystals were visualized, and hexameric and pentameric capsomers of the T = 3 capsids were clearly resolved. This, so far as we are aware, is the first direct visualization of the capsomere structure of a virus by AFM. In the cour se of recording the in situ development of the TYMV crystals, a profound restructuring of the surface arrangement was observed. This transformation was highly cooperative in nature, but the transitions were unambiguous and readily explicable in terms of an organized loss of classes of virus particles from specific lattice positions. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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