Concrete helix recalls smallpox win

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The left-handed concrete DNA helix at the Australian National University's John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR) in Canberra is symbolic of one of the world's greatest medical accomplishments (Nature 467, 920; 2010).

A former JCSMR director, microbiologist Frank Fenner, chaired the World Health Organization Global Commission for the Certification of Smallpox Eradication. Smallpox virus was finally eradicated 30 years ago using a live vaccinia virus vaccine.

Crucial for transcription and for pathogenicity of poxviruses is Z-DNA's left-handed double-helical structure (A. Rich and S. Zhang Nature Rev. Genet. 4, 566–572; 2003). Vaccinia virus becomes apathogenic if Z-DNA binding is disrupted (T. A. Brandt and B. L. Jacobs J. Virol. 75, 850–856; 2001).

The Z-form of DNA on the outside of our JCSMR building is an inspiring reminder of the fundamental work done here — and that great discoveries can arise from researching unusual and anomalous phenomena.

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Licinio, J., Easteal, S. & Wong, M. Concrete helix recalls smallpox win. Nature 468, 173 (2010) doi:10.1038/468173e

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