Filipino researchers land Molecular BioSystems cover story

Maria Pamela Dobay, 22 Sept 2011
Conflicting reports on the minimum number of hemagglutinin (HA) trimers that a flu virus needs to fuse with and subsequently penetrate host cell membranes led a mostly-Filipino research team from the Ludwig-Maximilians-University (Germany), the University of Zurich (Switzerland), and the University of the Philippines to develop a computational model that resolves this counting problem. The study is currently featured as the cover story of Molecular BioSystems (October 2011), a publication of the UK Royal Society of Chemistry.

The work is one of the more recent applications showing the promise of the so-called algorithmic/executable (AlEx) approach in systems biology. In AlEx, models are written using a specially-designed programming language that reflects biological concepts, resulting in an executable program equivalent of a biologist's cartoon.

Apart from the main result that six HA trimers are required for fusion, other interesting findings include a predicted relationship between the sialic acid (SA) density on the host cell and infection. Results indicate that there is an optimal range of SA surface densities that facilitate influenza virus entry, and anything falling outside this range would drastically impede the process. Cell variability as a function of SA density infection might thus be an important factor for influenza virus protection.