Evolution of viruses and bacteria
University of Basel
Group Webpages: https://neherlab.org/
What do we do?
We study how bacteria and viruses to uncover general principles of evolution and help fight the spread of disease.
Each year, Switzerland experiences an influenza outbreak. Despite best efforts, the influenza vaccine sometimes offers only limited protection since the viruses are constantly changing in response to the pressure of the immune system. New strains can emerge quickly and spread around the globe within weeks.
Our goal is to understand how evolution works at the molecular level and how organisms adapt to changing conditions through random mutations and recombination. Pathogens, such as the influenza virus, HIV or bacteria provide excellent model systems for studying the processes of evolution.
Our group applies modern sequencing techniques to decipher the genome of thousands of HIV particles and develops new algorithms to elucidate the interactions between HIV and the immune system from these data. We combine methods from bioinformatics, population genetics, and statistical physics.
Understanding the processes of evolution and adaptation is important for our efforts to control the spread of infectious diseases. For example, we have developed a method which can predict the evolution of influenza viruses based on their phylogenetic tree (nextflu.org). Such predictions can help to ensure that the seasonal influenza vaccine matches the circulating viruses.
Reconstructed phylogenetic tree and geographical spread of influenza viruses (nextflu.org).