New insights into a virus proteome: scientists identify unknown proteins of the herpesvirus

Max Planck scientists have identified unknown proteins of the herpesvirus. The genome encodes the complete information needed by an organism, including that required for protein production.

Viruses, which are up to a thousand times smaller than human cells, have considerably smaller genomes. Using a type of herpesvirus as a model system, the scientists of the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich in Germany and their collaboration partners at the University of California in San Francisco have shown that the genome of this virus contains much more information than previously assumed.

The researchers identified several hundred novel proteins, many of which were surprisingly small.

More than 80 per cent of the world's population is infected with the herpesvirus, which can cause severe diseases in newborns and in persons with weakened immune system. Researchers had already sequenced the herpesvirus genome 20 years ago, thinking they could then predict all proteins that the virus produces (virus proteome).

Now scientists from the research department of Matthias Mann, director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, and their American colleagues have analysed the information content of the genome more precisely.

To carry out their study, the scientists infected cells with herpesvirus and observed which proteins the virus produced inside the cell over a period of 72 hours. In order for proteins to be produced at all, the cell machinery must first make copies of the genetic material as intermediate products (RNA).