Biologists taught viruses to deliver more DNA to cells

Scientists at Catholic University of America have developed a new method for delivering genes into human cells using modified T4 viruses. These viruses are capable of carrying significantly more DNA inside them than conventional viruses, allowing the longest genes to be introduced into cells.

Gene therapy is an effective treatment for many hereditary diseases, but there are often problems with getting the right DNA into the cells. Conventional viruses used for this purpose are too small to accommodate all the necessary molecules. Therefore, scientists decided to modify the T4 phage, which can carry up to 20 times more payload.

Phage T4 consists of a protein “head” that carries the genetic information and a trunk with sprouts that are necessary for infection. The heads themselves are 120 nanometers by 86 nanometers in size and hold a double-stranded DNA molecule up to 171,000 nucleotide pairs long. However, T4 phages specialize in bacteria, such as E. coli, and cannot infect humans.

To give them this ability, scientists obtained empty T4 virus heads, placed the target load in them and coated them with an additional layer of lipids, which enabled the phages to penetrate human cells. These particles were successfully tested in experiments on cell cultures, where they introduced the dystrophin gene and showed that the cells began to produce a healthy protein. It has also been demonstrated that it is possible to introduce several genes simultaneously and all that is needed to incorporate them into the recipient’s DNA.

The scientists note that their technology for preparing viral particles was easier and cheaper than the methods used today. However, they have yet to show that such phages work effectively not only at the level of cell cultures but also at the level of the whole organism.

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