July 28, 2010
Getting A Step Ahead Of Pathogens
Genetic architecture and the evolution of RNA viruses
In biology and genetics, the concept of epistasis is what gives rise to the whole being more (or less) than the sum of its parts. The quantitative effect of a given mutation upon the traits of an organism has the potential to depend strongly upon the gene versions present in other parts of the genome, or even other mutations co-occurring in that gene. These genetic interactions, termed epistasis, can impact all aspects of organisms and play a pivotal role in the manifestation of sex, ploidy, modularity, robustness, reproductive isolation and the origin of species, the rate of adaptation, and the emergence of genetic mutations within individuals and populations. A recent article in the journal Chaos, published by the American Institute of Physics, examines the possibility of using epistasis to predict the outcome of the evolutionary processes, especially when the evolving units are pathogens such as viruses.
While this research is still in the early stages, Elena sees great potential.
"By increasing our ability to predict the most likely evolutionary paths a virus may follow in response to clinical treatments, we could get a step ahead of them and, perhaps, create new and more durable antiviral therapies," he says.
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