There may be a fortunate few in the world who by reason of isolation or plain good luck manage to avoid the miseries of the common cold, but just about everyone else can gloomily anticipate periodic run-ins with this most prevalent of communicable diseases from infancy onward. Health statisticians figure that the average American gets about six colds a year. That results in a huge amount of personal discomfort, and also accounts for billions of dollars annually in lost economic activity. Yes, we can put men on the moon but we can't cure the common cold. Ah, but substitute the word prevent for cure , and maybe, just maybe, relief is in sight.
At least that's the possibility arising from some elegant work done by a team of Purdue University researchers led by Michael G. Rossmann, a professor of biological sciences. For the first time, the Purdue team has been able to produce a three-dimensional map of the atomic structure of human rhinovirus-14, one of the 100 or so known infectious agents that cause colds. It did so by bombarding a virus in crystalline form with intense X-rays made in a particle accelerator at Cornell University, and then running the X-ray images that were produced through a super-computer. The computer's analysis of more than 6 million bits of information provided the scientists with their most detailed map of a cold virus.