TRACKING VIRUS STRAINS
"Life is complex", metaphorically and biologically. While we may never have a consensus on the meaning of life, scientists concur on some of the biochemical processes that make life happen. In this forum, we start with a few basics of biochemistry, build up to the lifecycle of viruses using coronavirus and flu virus as examples and end with the more pertinent topic of designing vaccines against them.
The sources of information for viruses and vaccines tend to fall into two categories: 1) Einstein-level details that need an advanced degree and 2) an oversimplification for those without an advanced degree. We have attempted to bridge the gap between the two. Sufficient scientific details have been presented here without overwhelming the reader to explain advanced topics such as what is really meant by a mutation in viruses and why that needs a reformulation of the vaccine.
In addition to the background information about viruses and vaccines, the website is tracking the progression of COVID-19 and flu viruses. Adding other viruses is a work in progress. The tracking engine is a complex custom-built biostatistical model that processes billions of bytes of genomic data that is retrieved periodically from veritable repositories worldwide. The engine predicts the future paths of the virus strains and calculates the annual flu vaccine. The information is useful to the public as well as professionals.
The project is an extension of FutureFlu.org, which is more rigorous in its content and has been tracking flu since 2016.
This section explains the biochemical processes leading up to the structure of viruses and why they are so lethal. The narrative is simple and no prior knowledge is assumed on the subject. It sets the stage for further discussion.
Next, we study the lifecycles of flu and coronaviruses to understand how researchers are identifying possible targets for disrupting those viruses. We also look at how the vaccines and drugs differ in their strategy and action against pathogens.
3. VIRAL STRAINS
This section covers the perpetual war between viruses and our immune system. Viruses mutate to hide from the immune system which, in turn, adapts to the new viral strains. This cycle goes on until a virus is eliminated, e.g. smallpox and polio.
Similar to diseases, pandemics are a fact of life. In this section, we explore why viruses such as coronavirus lay dormant for millennia and then turn lethal, with three pandemics this century (MERS, SARS and its variant SARS-2/COVID-19).
Tracking the history of mutations among viruses is crucial for designing vaccines against them. The vaccines must protect us against prevalent strains as well as the upcoming ones. We look at the role of computational biology in vaccine research.
In this section, we deep dive into tracking flu virus. From the 1918 Spanish Flu that killed 5% of the humans to 2009 Swine Flu, there is a flu epidemic every decade or two. Is a flu pandemic eminent? Will we see SARS-3 or MERS-2 instead? Or, could it be all three?
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