Time to stock up on tissues.
As the days suddenly transition from summer warmth to a winter chill, you seem to know more people who are sick, have been sick, or worse, are slowly becoming sick. Indeed, the colder months signify that seasonal bugs are in full flux — some scientists even say that this year’s flu season will be especially bad.
The flu ranges from an inconvenience for some to life-threatening for others. For elderly people, pregnant women and young children, the spread of the flu is ominous. The best hope today is to regularly wash your hands and get a flu shot.
But if we knew more about these viruses, researchers believe we could learn their weaknesses and stay ahead of them. Now, scientists across the nation are using supercomputers at the Texas Advanced Computing Center to find ways to stop viruses in their tracks.
Peter Kasson, an associate professor of molecular physiology and biomedical engineering at the University of Virginia, is one of those researchers. His work combines computer science and biology to understand viral infections such as influenza and Zika.
“Viruses are these really tiny packages that encode a lot of complexity,” Kasson said.
His research team observes viruses experimentally by manually tagging them with fluorescent proteins and viewing them through microscopes to understand how they affect cells. However, this is a difficult and time-consuming process with room for human error.
In addition to studying viruses experimentally, a supercomputer allows Kasson’s team to take apart critical viral mechanisms and understand them at the atomic level using simulations — virtual re-creations of a virus’s behavior.