School of Mathematics

Reidun Twarock

Reidun Twarock abstract

Reidun Twarock, Department of Mathematics, University of York

Viruses and geometry – a new perspective on virus assembly and anti-viral therapy   A large number of human, animal and plant viruses make use of protein containers, called viral capsids, to encapsulate and hence provide protection for their genomes. In many cases, these viral capsids exhibit symmetry, and they can therefore be modelled using techniques from group, graph and tiling theory. It has previously been assumed that their formation from the constituent protein building blocks can be fully understood as a self-assembly process in which viral genomes are only passive passengers. Our mathematical approach, in concert with techniques from bioinformatics, biophysics and experiment, provides a new perspective. It shows that, by contrast, interactions between viral genome and capsid play vital cooperative roles in this process in the case of RNA viruses, enhancing assembly efficiency and fidelity. We use the graph theoretical concept of Hamiltonian path to quantify the resulting complexity reduction in the number of assembly pathways, and discuss implications of these insights for a novel form of anti-viral therapy.