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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Atomic force microscopy investigation of viruses.

  • Author(s): McPherson, Alexander
  • Kuznetsov, Yurii G
  • et al.

Atomic force microscopy (AFM) has proven to be a valuable approach to delineate the architectures and detailed structural features of a wide variety of viruses. These have ranged from small plant satellite viruses of only 17 nm to the giant mimivirus of 750 nm diameter, and they have included diverse morphologies such as those represented by HIV, icosahedral particles, vaccinia, and bacteriophages. Because it is a surface technique, it provides images and information that are distinct from those obtained by electron microscopy, and in some cases, at even higher resolution. By enzymatic and chemical dissection of virions, internal structures can be revealed, as well as DNA and RNA. The method is relatively rapid and can be carried out on both fixed and unfixed samples in either air or fluids, including culture media. It is nondestructive and even non-perturbing. It can be applied to individual isolated virus, as well as to infected cells. AFM is still in its early development and holds great promise for further investigation of biological systems at the nanometer scale.

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