Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Predictive fitness model for influenza: Physics, computer science help find clues on flu evolution

Date:
February 26, 2014
Source:
Columbia University
Summary:
A new model to successfully predict the evolution of the influenza virus from one year to the next has been created by researchers. This advance in our understanding of influenza suggests a new, systematic way to select influenza vaccine strains. The flu is one of the major infectious diseases in humans. Seasonal strains of the influenza A virus account for about half a million deaths per year. Because influenza is a fast-evolving pathogen, the selection of optimal vaccines is a challenging global health issue. The scientists used ideas from physics and computer science in their approach to finding clues about the predictable versus random part of the flu evolution.

Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Cologne have created a new model to successfully predict the evolution of the influenza virus from one year to the next. This advance in our understanding of influenza suggests a new, systematic way to select influenza vaccine strains. The findings appear in Nature on Feb. 26.

The flu is one of the major infectious diseases in humans. Seasonal strains of the influenza A virus account for about half a million deaths per year. In a concerted effort, WHO and its Collaborating Centers have closely monitored the evolution of the seasonal H3N2 influenza strains for over 60 years. Based on these data, influenza strains are selected for vaccine production twice per year. Because influenza is a fast-evolving pathogen, the selection of optimal vaccines is a challenging global health issue.

In recent years, it became clear that the evolution of the flu is a complex process. Different influenza strains compete with each other; the race is about how to successfully infect humans. This prompted Marta Łuksza, of Columbia's Biological Sciences department and Michael Lässig of the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of Cologne, to ask the question: Can we predict which of these competitors will win the race?

"This was a challenge for an evolutionary biologist because there are very few systems in the wild for which quantitative predictions of their evolution are at all feasible," says Łuksza. "It was also a computational and theoretical challenge. While traditional evolutionary thinking is about reconstruction of the past, we had to develop ideas on how to reach into the future." Most importantly, the scientists had to find out which part of the system can be actually predicted and which are random. In their approach they used ideas from physics and computer science.

Łuksza and Lässig used Darwin's principle: survival of the fittest. But what determines how fit an influenza virus is? First, they considered innovation: the virus had to keep a high rate of mutations in order to escape from human immune response. But they also included conservation: these mutations must not compromise the essential functions of a virus, such as the correct folding of its proteins. Through studying the genomes of the virus, they devised a way to predict which viral strains have the optimal combination of innovation and conservation.

While Łuksza and Lässig focused on influenza, their approach highlights a general link between evolution and its consequences for epidemiology that is relevant for many fast-evolving pathogens. In a broader context, it touches upon the fundamental question of how predictable biological evolution is. "There is clearly no general answer to this question," says Łuksza. "But our analysis shows under what auspices limited predictions may be successful." Further extensive tests with global influenza data would help determine whether their method would lead to improved vaccines.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Columbia University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Marta Łuksza, Michael Lässig. A predictive fitness model for influenza. Nature, 2014; DOI: 10.1038/nature13087

Cite This Page:

Columbia University. "Predictive fitness model for influenza: Physics, computer science help find clues on flu evolution." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226132956.htm>.
Columbia University. (2014, February 26). Predictive fitness model for influenza: Physics, computer science help find clues on flu evolution. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226132956.htm
Columbia University. "Predictive fitness model for influenza: Physics, computer science help find clues on flu evolution." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140226132956.htm (accessed August 1, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Friday, August 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Ebola Vaccine Might Be Coming, But Where's It Been?

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) — Health officials are working to fast-track a vaccine — the West-African Ebola outbreak has killed more than 700. But why didn't we already have one? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Study Links Certain Birth Control Pills To Breast Cancer

Newsy (Aug. 1, 2014) — Previous studies have made the link between birth control and breast cancer, but the latest makes the link to high-estrogen oral contraceptives. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
House Republicans Vote to Sue Obama Over Healthcare Law

House Republicans Vote to Sue Obama Over Healthcare Law

Reuters - US Online Video (July 31, 2014) — The Republican-led House of Representatives votes to sue President Obama, accusing him of overstepping his executive authority in making changes to the Affordable Care Act. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Uganda on Alert for Ebola but No Confirmed Cases

Uganda on Alert for Ebola but No Confirmed Cases

AFP (July 31, 2014) — Uganda's health minister said on Thursday that there are no confirmed cases of Ebola in the country, but that it remained on alert for cases of the deadly virus. Uganda has suffered Ebola outbreaks in the past, most recently in 2012. Duration: 00:59 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins