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Abstract: Diseases from viruses and bacteria typically are one-time events for their hosts. Once the host recovers from the disease, its immune system has generated life long immunity, which protects the host from subsequent exposures to that infectious agent. Some viruses, such as HIV, escape the immune system by attacking and killing the cells that provide a host with immunity. Influenza virus has developed two mechanisms -- genetic drift, and genetic shift -- that permit it to infect the same host multiple times. Through genetic drift, an influenza virus uses a high rate of simple mutations that can be observed over years, to change enough over the winters between initial infection and subsequent local epidemics so that it is no longer recognized by the immune system as the same virus. In this way it escapes detection and causes repeated disease. However, through genetic shift a much more novel and virulent influenza virus appears and causes world wide pandemics, some of which (1918) have killed tens of millions of people. In this case entirely new chromosomes are acquired by the virus. Individuals have no immunity or past exposures to these genetically shifted viruses. An examination of the genetic sequence information stored in the chromosomes of influenza viruses has permitted us to identify the changes in sequences by genetic drift and shift from birds to humans and plot the evolution of these epidemics and pandemics. We have found that in some cases the host affects the direction of these genetic changes. Observations such as these may give some hope to predicting the sequences and viruses that could cause the next epidemic.
DR. ARNOLD J. LEVINE is a professor at The Simons Center for Systems Biology at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton (see http:www.csb.ias.edu/levine ), and a joint professor in the Pediatrics and Biochemistry Departments at the Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His research has focused on the causes of cancer in humans and animals. He discovered the p53 tumor suppressor gene, which acts to protect individuals from developing cancer and has identified genetic polymorphisms that alter the course of cancers, as well as novel biological processes that protect individuals from developing cancers.
Dr. Levine has helped determine national research priorities as chair of the National Institutes of Health Commission on AIDS Research and the National Academies Cancer Policy Board. He has served as president of Rockefeller University (1998-2002), chairman of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University (1984-1998), and chairman of the Department of Microbiology at the School of Medicine, SUNY Stony Brook (1979-1984). He has received nine honorary doctoral degrees and numerous awards, including the Mott Prize from the General Motors Foundation, the Bristol Meyers Prize for Cancer Research, the first Albany Medical College Prize, and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University.
Dr. Levine was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1991 and a member of its Institute of Medicine in 1995. He is the author of over 300 research articles and a book, Viruses, published by the Scientific American Library Series in 1993.
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