Emily Singer

A View from Emily Singer

Cold-Virus Genome Revealed

The sneeze-inducing DNA shows why it’s so difficult to find a cure for the common cold.

  • February 12, 2009

We may be one step closer to defeating that small but mighty bearer of human misery: the common cold.

Common cold: Shown here is the structure of the protein shell, or capsid, of the human rhinovirus. Credit: J. Y. Sgro, UW-Madison

Scientists have now sequenced all of the 99 known strains of cold virus. The research, published today in the journal Science, sheds light on the bug’s ubiquity–different viruses can swap DNA sequences, generating new strains that can evade the immune system.

According to a statement from the University of Wisconsin:

The newly sequenced viruses also show … why it is unlikely we will ever have an effective, all-purpose cold vaccine: The existing reservoir of viruses worldwide is huge and, according to the new study, they have a tendency to swap genetic sequences when cells are infected by more than one virus, a phenomenon that can lead to new virus strains and clinical manifestations.

“Having sequenced the complete genomes of these things, we now know you can be infected by more than one virus at a time and that they can recombine (their genes),” [lead author of the new study Ann] Palmenberg [of UW-Madison’s Institute for Molecular Virology] explains. “That’s why we’ll never have a vaccine for the common cold. Nature is very efficient at putting different kinds of paint on the viruses.”

Want to go ad free? No ad blockers needed.

Become an Insider
Already an Insder? Log in.

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Rewriting Life

Reprogramming our bodies to make us healthier.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly home delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website.

    The Download. Our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation.

    Access to the Magazine archive. Over 24,000 articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips.

    Special Discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look. Exclusive early access to stories.

    Insider Conversations. Listen in as our editors talk to innovators from around the world.

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.