Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Forced evolution: Can we mutate viruses to death?

Analysis reveals role of gene swaps in evolution of disease

It sounds like a science fiction movie: A killer contagion threatens the Earth, but scientists save the day with a designer drug that forces the virus to mutate itself out of existence. The killer disease? Still a fiction. The drug? It could become a reality thanks to a new study by Rice University bioengineers.

The study, which is available online and slated for publication in the journal Physical Review E, offers the most comprehensive mathematical analysis to date of the mechanisms that drive evolution in viruses and bacteria. Rather than focusing solely on random genetic mutations, as past analyses have, the study predicts exactly how evolution is affected by the exchange of entire genes and sets of genes.

"We wanted to focus more attention on the roles that recombination and horizontal gene transfer play in the evolution of viruses and bacteria," said bioengineer Michael Deem, the study's lead researcher. "So, we incorporated both into the leading models that are used to describe bacterial and viral evolution, and we derived exact solutions to the models."

The upshot is a newer, composite formula that more accurately captures what happens in real world evolution. Deem's co-authors on the study include Rice graduate student Enrique Muñoz and longtime collaborator Jeong-Man Park, a physicist at the Catholic University of Korea in Bucheon.

In describing the new model, Deem drew an analogy to thermodynamics and discussed how a geneticist or drug designer could use the new formula in much the same way that an engineer might use thermodynamics formulas.

"Some of the properties that describe water are density, pressure and temperature," said Deem. "If you know any two of them, then you can predict any other one using thermodynamics.

"That's what we're doing here," he said. "If you know the recombination rate, mutation rate and fitness function, our formula can analytically predict the properties of the system. So, if you have recombination at a certain frequency, I can say exactly how much that helps or hurts the fitness of the population."

Deem, Rice's John W. Cox Professor in Biochemical and Genetic Engineering and professor of physics and astronomy, said the new model helps to better describe the evolutionary processes that occur in the real world, and it could be useful for doctors, drug designers and others who study how diseases evolve and how our immune systems react to that evolution.

One idea that was proposed about five years ago is "lethal mutagenesis." In a nutshell, the idea is to design drugs that speed up the mutation rates of viruses and push them beyond a threshold called a "phase transition." The thermodynamic analogy for this transition is the freezing or melting of water -- which amounts to a physical transition between water's liquid and solid phases.

"Water goes from a liquid to a solid at zero degrees Celsius under standard pressure, and you can represent that mathematically using thermodynamics," Deem said. "In our model, there's also a phase transition. If the mutation, recombination or horizontal gene transfer rates are too high, the system delocalizes and gets spread all over sequence space."

Deem said the new results predict which parameter values will lead to this delocalization.

A competing theory is that a mutagenesis drug may eradicate a virus or bacterial population by reducing the fitness to negative values. The new mathematical results allow calculation of this mechanism when the fitness function and the mutation, recombination and horizontal gene transfer rates are known.

Without theoretical tools like the new model, drug designers looking to create pills to induce lethal mutagenesis couldn't say for certain under what parameter ranges the drugs really worked. Deem said the new formula should provide experimental drug testers with a clear picture of whether the drugs -- or something else -- causes mutagenesis.

Jade Boyd | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Seeking balanced networks: how neurons adjust their proteins during homeostatic scaling.

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

More VideoLinks >>>