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Virus detection methods


Polio: acceptance of errors
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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Polio is interesting because there are some studies on sequences, and there is one interesting part is that the error rate in polio... not the error rate, the error rate is like influenza, it's of the same order of magnitude. But what is important is the acceptance of errors, in other words if you make errors and they are lethal then these die out and only the other ones remain. The question is how much error can the virus tolerate, and the acceptance of errors seems to be rather different in polio. We saw in those sequences we studied that only the third codon position really is changed. The first and second position, which determine the protein building block, the amino acid in the protein, those positions are almost unchanged. Whereas all the changes go into the third position which is redundancy and where they don't make much change in the protein structure. What does it mean? It means the proteins are pretty stable, so the immune system can get on target and can develop some defence. If the virus would change too rapidly, they couldn't do. But what is again... what is tested is the phenotype by the protein molecules. We don't know what the cause for this is. Of course the way of polio is a different one from influenza. You know, influenza gets through your breathing, little droplets of it, you know AIDS virus has to go through blood contact, or other liquids in the body have to be in direct contact, whereas polio has to go through the stomach. So these virus have quite different environment and react also quite different.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: polio virus, AIDS virus, influenza virus

Duration: 2 minutes, 14 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010