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Gelbart Virus Lab Home

Virus Group Summary

We are a group of physical chemists and molecular biologists, theorists and experimentalists, trying to understand viruses and viral life cycles —viralinfectivity — from a physical point of view.

We work on projects that include the statistical mechanics of long RNA molecules as branched polymers, in vitro experiments on self-assembly of viruses from purified components, and in vivo studies of virus growth and viral gene delivery.

The physical virology research group in the UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry department is led by Professors William M. Gelbart and Charles M. Knobler as a joint experimental and theoretical research group devoted to understanding what viruses are and how they "work" and using virus like particles to deliver genes for gene therapies and medical applications.

Research Overview

Some of Our Methods and Techniques Employed

While we do not limit our technique capabilities to just the techniques below, as the most important questions that can be asked, may need only the simplest of techniques, some of our studies do require sophisticated instrumentation which we have availability either in our laboratory, at UCLA and the California Nanosystems Institute (CNSI) or with our...Read more

What are the Physical Properties - Branching Characteristics and 3D sizes - of viral-length RNA molecules?


The figure below is a cryo-electron microscopy image that we obtained [RNA 2012] from a purified solution of the RNA molecules (circled in red) corresponding to one of the genes of CCMV. Each of the molecules in the micrograph is chemically identical to the others – the same 3200 nucleotide (nt)-long...Read more

How can in vitro packaged self-amplifying RNA genes be used for in situ expression of proteins

In our general introduction of "Self Amplifying RNA research projects", we emphasized how important it is to mimic the natural use of RNA replicons by a wide range of positive-strand RNA viruses, for purposes of high-level protein expression. We featured the particular case of Nodamura virus, with its two-molecule genome consisting of RNA1 coding for the...Read more

In Vivo Self-Amplifying RNA Research Projects

                 By “in vivo” experiments we mean ones performed in host cells (rather than in host animals, which is how the term “in vivo” is more generally used, in virology and medical contexts). And by “host cells” we mean controlled monolayers of cells in petri dishes. In this classical form the cells can easily be transfected by RNA or VLPs, or...Read more



                  Virus particles can be as simple as a molecule of RNA or DNA inside a spherical shell – the “capsid” – made up of multiple copies of a single protein. Further, because they only “become alive” when they are inside their hosts, it is possible to study viruses as physical objects, i.e., to do the same controlled experiments (and...Read more

Our Groups' Previous Work in Studying the Pressure of DNA viruses - Packing DNA in Bacteriophage
Bacteriophage lambda, shown in the electron micrograph, consists of a protein capsid 30 nm in radius that has a long cylindrical tail. Its genome, double stranded (ds) DNA, is protected by the capsid from attack by nuclease enzymes that
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Some of Our Group's Previous Work - Squeezing Viruses with an Atomic Force Microscope
Pressures on capsids
We know from our studies with lambda phage that viral capsids can support internal pressures of 50 - 60 atm. The interactions between the proteins that make up the capsid are held together by hydrophobic and electrostatic forces
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The Origin of Icosahedral Symmetry in Viruses
Certainly one of the most intriguing facts about viruses is that the large majority of them display full icosahedral symmetry, arguably the highest and also the most esthetically-pleasing symmetry shown in Nature. The
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