Disassembly of the cystovirus ϕ6 envelope by montmorillonite clay

Microbiologyopen. 2014 Feb;3(1):42-51. doi: 10.1002/mbo3.148. Epub 2013 Dec 19.


Prior studies of clay-virus interactions have focused on the stability and infectivity of nonenveloped viruses, yielding contradictory results. We hypothesize that the surface charge distribution of the clay and virus envelope dictates how the components react and affect aggregation, viral stability, and infectivity. The bacteriophage Cystoviridae species φ6 used in this study is a good model for enveloped pathogens. The interaction between φ6 and montmorillonite (MMT) clay (the primary component of bentonite) is explored by transmission electron microscopy. The analyses show that MMT-φ6 mixtures undergo heteroaggregation, forming structures in which virtually all the virions are either sequestered between MMT platelet layers or attached to platelet edges. The virions swell and undergo disassembly resulting in partial or total envelope loss. Edge-attached viral envelopes distort to increase contact area with the positively charged platelet edges indicating that the virion surface is negatively charged. The nucleocapsid (NCs) remaining after envelope removal also exhibit distortion, in contrast to detergent-produced NCs which exhibit no distortion. This visually discernible disassembly is a mechanism for loss of infectivity previously unreported by studies of nonenveloped viruses. The MMT-mediated sequestration and disassembly result in reduced infectivity, suggesting that clays may reduce infectivity of enveloped pathogenic viruses in soils and sediments.

Keywords: Viral envelope disassembly; viral infectivity; virus adsorption; virus-montmorillonite heteroaggregation; ϕ6 nucleocapsid..

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bentonite / pharmacology*
  • Colloids
  • Cystoviridae / drug effects*
  • Cystoviridae / pathogenicity
  • Cystoviridae / ultrastructure
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Nucleocapsid / drug effects
  • Nucleocapsid / ultrastructure
  • Soil Microbiology
  • Viral Plaque Assay
  • Virion / drug effects*
  • Virion / ultrastructure


  • Colloids
  • Bentonite