Virus evolution and the predictability of next year's flu

Richard Neher
Biozentrum, University of Basel

slides at


tobacco mosaic virus

bacteria phage

influenza virus

human immunodeficiency virus
  • rely on host to replicate
  • little more than genome + capsid
  • genomes typically 5-200k bases (+exceptions)
  • many infectious diseases are caused by viruses
  • very important function in microbial eco-systems
  • most abundant organisms on earth $\sim 10^{31}$

Evolution of HIV

  • Chimp → human transmission around 1768 gave rise to HIV-1 group M
  • ~100 million infected people since
  • subtypes differ at 10-20% of their genome
  • HIV-1 evolves ~0.1% per year
image: Sharp and Hahn, CSH Persp. Med.

HIV infection

  • $10^8$ cells are infected every day
  • the virus repeatedly escapes immune recognition
  • integrates into T-cells as latent provirus
image: wikipedia

HIV-1 evolution within one individual

silouhette:, Zanini at al, 2015. Collaboration with Jan Albert and his group

Population genetic models of rapid evolution

RN, Annual Reviews, 2013; Desai & Fisher; Brunet & Derride; Kessler & Levine

Neutral/Kingman coalescent

strong selection

Bolthausen-Sznitman Coalescent

RN, Hallatschek, PNAS, 2013; see also Brunet and Derrida, PRE, 2007
Zanini et al, eLife, 2015

Bursts in a tree ↔ high fitness genotypes

Can we read fitness of a tree?

Human seasonal influenza viruses

slide by Trevor Bedford

  • Influenza virus evolves to avoid human immunity
  • Vaccines need frequent updates

Predicting evolution

Given the branching pattern:

  • can we predict fitness?
  • pick the closest relative of the future?
RN, Russell, Shraiman, eLife, 2014

Fitness inference from trees

$$P(\mathbf{x}|T) = \frac{1}{Z(T)} p_0(x_0) \prod_{i=0}^{n_{int}} g(x_{i_1}, t_{i_1}| x_i, t_i)g(x_{i_2}, t_{i_2}| x_i, t_i)$$
RN, Russell, Shraiman, eLife, 2014

HIV acknowledgments

  • Fabio Zanini
  • Jan Albert
  • Johanna Brodin
  • Christa Lanz
  • Göran Bratt
  • Lina Thebo
  • Vadim Puller

Influenza and Theory acknowledgments

  • Boris Shraiman
  • Colin Russell
  • Trevor Bedford
  • Oskar Hallatschek

  • Trevor Bedford
  • Colin Megill
  • Pavel Sagulenko
  • Wei Ding
  • Sidney Bell
  • James Hadfield