The SARS virus that caused worldwide panic in 2003 and claimed
about 800 lives invades its victims using "fatty rafts" on cell
membranes, Chinese scientists have said.
These lipid rafts, or fatty acids, are cholesterol-enriched
sections of the cell membrane, they said.
How the SARS virus enters and infects its host cells has always
been controversial, but health experts consider such details
crucial as they provide important clues on how the virus can be
In an article published in life sciences journal Cell Research,
scientists from China and the United States described how they
cultured cells, exposed them to the virus and then observed how it
was engulfed - in a process called endocytosis - by the host
"The virus gets in through endocytosis and then it is aided by
lipid rafts along the way," Jiang Chengyu, a professor at the
Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, said yesterday in a
But Jiang said designing an "inhibitor" to stop the virus was
still a long way off.
"This finding helps us understand the puzzle a little more, but
as for creating an inhibitor, there is still a long way to go," she
Experts say the palm civet and certain species of bats are
natural hosts of the SARS virus, and some of them caution that SARS
could reemerge and become a global threat.
The first case of SARS in China was identified in Guangdong
province in late 2002.
The government banned the rearing and consumption of civets in
an effort to remove a vital link in the chain after scientists
found SARS virus in them.
The research article can be found at www.nature.com/cr.
(Agencies via China Daily January 30, 2008)