Research Highlights

Nature 454, 256 (17 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/454256e; Published online 16 July 2008

Virology: Collective calm

Biophys. J. doi:10.1529/biophysj.108.133694 (2008)

Whether viruses kill a host or lie dormant may be decided 'by committee', according to a model designed by Joshua Weitz at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and his collaborators.

Viruses that infect bacteria can 'choose' to burst out of the host cell or to sit tight in a latent state. Previous research with the virus bacteriophage lambda has shown that if two or more virus particles inhabit a single cell they are more likely to defer killing their host than is a lone virus.

The more virus particles there are in a cell, the greater the overall level of viral gene expression. Weitz's model proposes that even slight increases in the viral messenger RNA beyond the amount that can be produced from a single virus can have a dramatic effect on gene networks that control cell fate.