Computer model uses virus ‘appearance’ to better predict winter flu strains — ScienceDaily

Combining genetic and experimental data into models about the influenza virus can help predict more accurately which strains will be most common during the next winter, says a study published recently in eLife.

The models could make the design of flu vaccines more accurate, providing fuller protection against a virus that causes around half a million deaths each year globally.

Vaccines are the best protection we have against the flu. But the virus changes its appearance to our immune system every year, requiring researchers to update the vaccine to match. Since a new vaccine takes almost a year to make, flu researchers must predict which flu viruses look the most like the viruses of the future.

The gold-standard ways of studying influenza involve laboratory experiments looking at a key molecule that coats the virus called haemagglutinin. But these methods are labour-intensive and take a long time. Researchers have focused instead on using computers to predict how the flu virus will evolve from the genetic sequence of haemagglutinin alone, but these data only give part of the picture.

“The influenza research community has long recognised the importance of taking into account physical characteristics of the flu virus, such as how haemagglutinin changes over time, as well as genetic information,” explains lead author John Huddleston, a PhD student in the Bedford Lab at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Molecular and Cell Biology Program at the University of Washington, Seattle, US. “We wanted to see whether combining genetic sequence-only models of influenza evolution with other high-quality experimental measurements could improve the forecasting of the new strains of flu that will emerge one year down the line.”

Huddleston and the team looked at different components of virus ‘fitness’ — that is, how likely the virus is to thrive and continue to evolve.

Brite Winter cancels 2021 festival, shifts to scaled-back programming

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Brite Winter, Cleveland’s annual outdoor music festival, has announced that it will shift its format for 2021 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The festival announced on Sept. 30 that it will not host its signature one-day outdoor music festival event, which typically draws tens of thousands of attendees annually to Cleveland’s West bank of the Flats neighborhood.

“As you are aware, arts organizations around the globe have had to cancel, postpone or modify their regular events due to public health concerns around COVID-19,” a press release states. “Brite Winter is no different. While we will not be hosting our typical one-day bash in February, we will still have a winter full of art, music, and connection.”

The press release didn’t detail specific events to replace Brite Winter, but stated that some small in-person events will take place in January, February and March to share music and visual arts with Northeast Ohioans. Some programming will also be offered virtually.

“It will be different, but we are looking forward to the opportunity to continue to bring joy to our Cleveland community in a new and different way,” the press release states.

Brite Winter has taken place rain, shine or snow for 11 years in Cleveland, providing a daylong music festival featuring primarily local acts and bands. The fest also showcases local artists with various installations.

Announcements regarding Brite Winter’s 2021 programming will be announced on the festival’s social media pages.

READ MORE: Brite Winter shows why it’s a Cleveland tradition with 2020 festival (photos)

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