Getting down on a virus’s level: Vail Symposium talks about dirty tricksters
In the past year, we’ve learned more than we probably wanted to know about viruses — firsthand. Yet these microscopic parasites are tricky little buggers with a wide variety of defense mechanisms that allow them to morph, evolve and change the world.
On Thursday, April 1 at 6 p.m., Vail Symposium welcomes Dr. Jim Baker from the University of Michigan for a discussion on the cellular-level battle on viruses.
“It is like a war with multiple enemies,” said Vail Symposium director of programming Claire Noble. “Our immune systems are continually fending off attacks from very wily foes. Dr. Baker will provide a glimpse of what our immune systems are up against while we go about living our lives.”
Viral immune evasion is the process by which viruses evade the immune system of the host. Viruses have ‘studied’ immunology over millions of years of coevolution with their hosts. During this ongoing education, they have developed countless mechanisms to escape from the host’s immune system.
“Stranger than fiction” is an apt description of virus behavior that includes shape-shifting and sabotage. For example, a fast replicating, small RNA virus might use speed and shape-changing to fool the immune system; a large, complex DNA virus with a more rigid genome might have the coding capacity for additional genes which interfere with the hosts’ ability to confront the virus.
Natural selection is the governing principle underlying the interaction between viruses and the host immune system. Natural selection has led to the evolution of the pathogens we confront today, and natural selection has also shaped, over a different time scale, the human immune system. Both pathogens and host strategize for survival. Some viruses replicate in regions less accessible to host defenses while more nimble viruses might use mutability to improve their chances of persisting.
The host-virus war is fought at the molecular level. Like the thrust and parry of battle, viruses use diverse mechanisms to avoid and antagonize the immune response of their hosts. This discussion with Dr. Baker will focus on how viruses escape immunity and how that may relate to COVID-19. Further conversation will include the COVID-19 vaccine and future pandemic preparations.
Baker is the founding Director of the Mary H. Weiser Food Allergy Center and the Ruth Dow Doan Professor at Michigan Medicine. His academic accomplishments are varied and significant. For more than 20 years, Dr. Baker was the Chief of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the U-M. He is also a Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the College of Engineering and the Director of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences. Dr. Baker’s research is in the area of immunology and host defense, evolving into nanomaterials and their applications in therapeutics. He has invented new forms of synthetic lipid and polymeric nanostructures, which have resulted in the development of new approaches to therapeutic molecules and vaccines.
IF YOU GO…
What: Dirty Tricksters: How Viruses Evade the Immune System
When: Thursday, April 1, from 6-7 p.m.
Where: Zoom webinar
More information: This program is free. Please register at vailsymposium.org for more information.