Our immune systems rapidly overcome many viral infections and protect us against repeated infections. However, we are unable to clear HIV infections and suffer repeatedly from influenza. These viruses evade immune recognition by rapidly changing parts of their proteins. New viral variants emerge continuously and compete against each other in complicated stochastic dynamics.
In this lecture, Richard Neher will present recent progress in our understanding of the evolutionary dynamics of organisms, such as HIV and the influenza virus. His team sequenced the whole genome of thousands of HIV viruses from many samples from the same HIV-infected individual and developed mathematical models to describe virus evolution. These models were used to infer fitness of circulating influenza viruses, which in turn allowed the team to predict properties of future influenza viruses. Since the seasonal influenza vaccine is only effective when the vaccine virus matches the circulating virus population, such predictions of future influenza viruses can improve the vaccine.
Neher studied physics at the universities of Göttingen and Munich. In 2007, he joined the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and became an independent Max Planck Research Group Leader in Tübingen in 2010. He joined the faculty of the University of Basel in 2017. He was awarded an European Research Council starting grant (2010), the ARCHES prize (2012), and a Phase I OpenSciencePrize (2016).