Friday, April 10, 2009
Alex Evilevitch joins the CMU Physics Department
Alex Evilevitch joins the CMU Physics Dept., accepting an offer extended earlier within the department's Biological Physics Initiative. Within this initiative, Alex will head the second new experimental group (after the Lösche group formed in 2005). Both experimental groups are complemented by Markus Deserno's theoretical and computational group formed in 2007.
Alex' work focuses on virus biophysics. Viral capsids, with diameters between 10 and 100 nm, protect genomes that are tens of microns in contour length. The majority of viruses possess icosahedral protein shells with thicknesses of only a few nanometers — a single protein layer. Yet, viral particles are stable enough to withstand huge internal forces, exerted by its packaged genome, and external forces from its environment. On the other hand, they must be sufficiently unstable to rapidly release their genome into target cells during infection.
There is thus a unique match between the virus’ genome length and capsid size and strength which is uniquely adjusted to the biological and physical properties of the host cell. Internal genome pressure, reaching tens of atmospheres as a result of strong confinement, is required for phages and many other dsDNA viruses to infect by passive ejection of their genomes. Determining the complex details of these apparently simple interrelations is the focus of research activities of the Evilevitch group. Besides investigating the structural and physico-chemical details of packaged, highly charged linear polymers within the capsids, the group also discovered that the packaged genome provides additional strength to the viral capsid by supporting the fragile structure from the inside — helping the virus survive external stress imposed on it between infection cycles.
More information about Alex's work and the CMU Biological Physics initiative can be found here.