Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine
Volume 9 (2008), Issue 3-4, Pages 221-229
Original Article

New Insights into Viral Architecture via Affine Extended Symmetry Groups

1Department of Mathematics, University of York, York, UK
2Department of Biology, University of York, York, UK

Received 2 April 2008; Accepted 28 April 2008

Copyright © 2008 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Since the seminal work of Caspar and Klug on the structure of the protein containers that encapsulate and hence protect the viral genome, it has been recognized that icosahedral symmetry is crucial for the structural organization of viruses. In particular, icosahedral symmetry has been invoked in order to predict the surface structures of viral capsids in terms of tessellations or tilings that schematically encode the locations of the protein subunits in the capsids. Whilst this approach is capable of predicting the relative locations of the proteins in the capsids, a prediction on the relative sizes of different virus particles in a family cannot be made. Moreover, information on the full 3D structure of viral particles, including the tertiary structures of the capsid proteins and the organization of the viral genome within the capsid are inaccessible with their approach. We develop here a mathematical framework based on affine extensions of the icosahedral group that allows us to address these issues. In particular, we show that the relative radii of viruses in the family of Polyomaviridae and the material boundaries in simple RNA viruses can be determined with our approach. The results complement Caspar and Klug's theory of quasi-equivalence and provide details on virus structure that have not been accessible with previous methods, implying that icosahedral symmetry is more important for virus architecture than previously appreciated.