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Micrograph of Influenza A particles

Influenza particles (artificially coloured) swap the proteins on their surfaces with ease. Credit: Eye of Science/SPL

Cell biology

Flu virus is a master shape-shifter

Cells infected with the versatile pathogen churn out viral particles with many different shapes.

An influenza virus infecting a single cell can produce offspring with a wide variety of shapes, maximizing the virus’s chance of escaping attack by antiviral therapies.

Antibodies and vaccines target proteins on the surface of a viral cell. But the flu virus can quickly swap out one set of proteins for another, making the virus notoriously difficult to track and treat.

Michael Vahey at Washington University in St Louis, Missouri, and Daniel Fletcher at the University of California, Berkeley, developed a strain of the flu virus and attached fluorescent markers of a specific colour to each type of the virus’s surface proteins. The researchers infected cells with this virus and allowed it to replicate for one generation — this ensured there was not enough time for significant genetic mutation to occur. The cells produced viral particles with a vast assortment of marker combinations, suggesting that the virus can assemble different structures without undergoing genetic mutations.

New antiviral therapies could be designed to target more than one surface protein and thus more effectively treat the flu virus, the authors say.

More Research Highlights...

Ember and thick smoke from bushfires reach Braemar Bay in New South Wales

Vast bush fires that swept across Australia at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020 filled the skies with enough smoke to warm a portion of the atmosphere. Credit: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty

Atmospheric science

Smoke from Australian fires turned up the heat in the southern sky

The catastrophic wildfires of late 2019 and early 2020 triggered a lingering temperature rise in a section of Earth’s lower atmosphere.
Visible and infrared images of the device in fully discharged and charged states

A display screen in its uncharged (top left) and charged (top right) state in visible light. The screen reflects one range of infrared wavelengths when uncharged (bottom left) and another range when charged (bottom right). Credit: M. S. Ergoktas et al./Nature Photon.

Optics and photonics

One screen, three images — some invisible in ordinary light

A graphene-based device can display several images simultaneously using a range of wavelengths.
Woman harvesting teff, Ethiopia

A farmer in Ethiopia harvests teff, a cereal. Small farms tend to have more-diverse landscapes than do sprawling industrial operations. Credit: Andia/Universal Images Group/Getty

Environmental sciences

Small farms outdo big ones on biodiversity — and crop yields

Large-scale farms account for most of the global food supply, but smallholdings protect species and are just as profitable.
Diagram of the nuclear composition and electron configuration of an atom of xenon-132.

A xenon atom’s electrons (grey circles; illustration) have been observed and even manipulated as they shifted their position. Credit: Carlos Clarivan/Science Photo Library

Atomic and molecular physics

An atom shuffles its electrons at ultrahigh speed — and is caught in the act

Scientists capture the movement of electrons in a xenon atom, a phenomenon that lasts for a fraction of one-billionth of a second.
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