Combining high-resolution cryo-electron microscopy and mutagenesis to develop cowpea mosaic virus for bionanotechnology.

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Particles of cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) have enjoyed considerable success as nanoparticles. The development of a system for producing empty virus-like particles (eVLPs) of the virus, which are non-infectious and have the potential to be loaded with heterologous material, has increased the number of possible applications for CPMV-based particles. However, for this potential to be realised, it was essential to demonstrate that eVLPs were accurate surrogates for natural virus particles, and this information was provided by high-resolution cryo-EM studies of eVLPs. This demonstration has enabled the approaches developed for the production of modified particles developed with natural CPMV particles to be applied to eVLPs. Furthermore, a combination of cryo-EM and mutagenic studies allowed the development of particles which are permeable but which could still assemble efficiently. These particles were shown to be loadable with cobalt, indicating that they can, indeed, be used as nano-containers.