High-resolution atomic structures have been reported recently for two types of viral polyhedra, intracellular protein crystals produced by ubiquitous insect viruses. Polyhedra contain embedded virus particles and function as the main infectious form for baculoviruses and cypoviruses, two distinct classes of viruses that infect mainly Lepitoptera species (butterflies and moths). Polyhedra are extremely stable and protect the virus particles once released in the environment. The extensive crystal contacts observed in the structures explain the remarkable stability of viral polyhedra and provide hints about how these crystals dissolve in the alkaline midgut, releasing embedded virus particles to infect feeding larvae. The stage is now set to answer intriguing questions about the in vivo crystallization of polyhedra, how virus particles are incorporated into polyhedra, and what determines the size and shape of the crystals. Large quantities of polyhedra can be obtained from infected larvae and polyhedra can also be produced using insect cell expression systems. Modified polyhedra encapsulating other entities in place of virus particles have potential applications as a means to stabilize proteins such as enzymes or growth factors, and the extremely stable polyhedrin lattice may provide a framework for future engineered micro-crystal devices.
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