Molecular Machine Cover


The cover of the October 18, 2001, issue of Nature features the research of Carlos Bustamante and his colleagues at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), showing a photomicrograph of DNA as it is being packed into a virus. The Berkeley Lab measurements reveal that the DNA inside some viruses is packed so tightly that the internal pressure reaches ten times that in a champagne bottle. The researchers suspect that this high pressure helps the virus spurt its DNA into a cell once it has latched onto the surface. Once the DNA gets inside, it begins retooling the cell to manufacture new copies of the virus. The process eventually kills the cell, but not before generating thousands more viruses to spread the infection. Such tight packing is achieved by one of the most powerful molecular motors ever observed, stronger than the motors that move our muscles or the nanoscale molecular motors that duplicate DNA or transcribe it into RNA. Dr. Bustamante heads the Advanced Microscopies Department in LBNL’s Physical Biosciences Division and is a Howard Hughes Investigator and Professor of Biochemistry at U.C. Berkeley. The research was done in collaboration with scientists from the University of Minnesota, and was funded by the Office of Biological & Environmental Research as well as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.