Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

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...

Selected materials found in the gut contents of Tollund Man

The intestinal contents of a man killed in a prehistoric ritual (clockwise from upper left): barley, charred food that had been encrusted in a clay pot, flax seeds and sand. Credit: Peter Steen Henriksen, the Danish National Museum


The guts of a ‘bog body’ reveal sacrificed man’s final meal

Tollund Man, who lived more than 2,000 years ago, ate well before he was hanged.
Illustration of Earth with white lines showing the magnetic field.

Earth’s magnetic field (depicted as white lines in this artist’s impression) can be studied with observations from a constellation of commercial satellites. Credit: Mikkel Juul Jensen/Science Photo Library


Telecoms satellites’ new purpose: spying on Earth’s magnetic field

Clues to the forces generated by the planet’s core emerge from observations intended for satellite navigation.
Ageing of an artwork with graphene

After 130 hours of artificial ageing by visible light, the painting Triton and Nereid has lost some of the purple tint to the figures’ right, but a graphene film kept the bright pink at upper left undimmed. Credit: M. Kotsidi et al./Nature Nanotechnol.

Materials science

A graphene cloak keeps artworks’ colours ageless

A layer of carbon atoms preserves a painting’s vibrant hues — and can be applied and removed without damage.
Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing


Quick links