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The quest for a universal flu vaccine

Every year, the flu vaccine has to be updated as the virus mutates and creates new strains for which people have no antibodies. As part of his postdoctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, molecular evolution specialist Ricardo Durães de Carvalho, a visiting researcher from the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Pernambuco, used supercomputers to study the genetic material of more than 100,000 samples of influenza A subtypes and influenza B viruses isolated since 1918. The objective was to learn more about the structure of hemagglutinin (which enables the virus to bind to the cells of the respiratory tract) and neuraminidase (which enables the virus to leave one cell and invade another). Carvalho found that some sections of these proteins are equal across all strains of the virus (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, April), making them good candidates for a potential vaccine against all varieties of influenza.