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What Do They Learn in Virus School?

A new study published in Science shows how quickly viruses evolve new infection strategies, says The New York Times' Carl Zimmer. Researchers at Michigan State University say they observed viruses working out a new strategy in little more than two weeks.

The Science study focused on lambda virus, which infects E. coli. The virus usually clamps on to a specific molecule on the cell's outer membrane and then injects its genes and proteins into its host, Zimmer says. The researchers created an experiment in which the E. coli hosts had almost none of the molecule the virus needs to see how the virus might mutate to overcome the difficulty. "The scientists found that in just 15 days, there were viruses using a new molecule — a channel in E. coli known as OmpF. Lambda viruses had never been reported to use OmpF before," Zimmer says. "The researchers sequenced the genomes of the evolved viruses and were surprised to find that this transformation always required four mutations. In all the lines that could grab OmpF, those four mutations were identical, or nearly so."

The researchers estimate that the chances of all four mutations arising at once in lambda are about one in a thousand trillion trillion, Zimmer adds. But experts say that such studies show that researchers may at some point be able to forecast the evolution of viruses and bacteria.

The Scan

Tens of Millions Saved

The Associated Press writes that vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 20 million lives in their first year.

Supersized Bacterium

NPR reports that researchers have found and characterized a bacterium that is visible to the naked eye.

Also Subvariants

Moderna says its bivalent SARS-CoV-2 vaccine leads to a strong immune response against Omicron subvariants, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Science Papers Present Gene-Edited Mouse Models of Liver Cancer, Hürthle Cell Carcinoma Analysis

In Science this week: a collection of mouse models of primary liver cancer, and more.