Science 22 November 2013:
Vol. 342 no. 6161 pp. 976-979
DOI:10.1126/science.1244730
Report

Substitutions Near the Receptor Binding Site Determine Major Antigenic Change During Influenza Virus Evolution

Björn F. Koel, David F. Burke, Theo M. Bestebroer, Stefan van der Vliet, Gerben C. M. Zondag, Gaby Vervaet, Eugene Skepner, Nicola S. Lewis, Monique I. J. Spronken, Colin A. Russell, Mikhail Y. Eropkin, Aeron C. Hurt, Ian G. Barr, Jan C. de Jong, Guus F. Rimmelzwaan, Albert D. M. E. Osterhaus, Ron A. M. Fouchier, Derek J. Smith | 1 Comments

The major antigenic changes of the influenza virus are primarily caused by a single amino acid near the receptor binding site.

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The idea of biophysical constraints seems antithetical to the idea of nature somehow selecting mutations that cause amino acid substitutions. However, I am not a biophysicist or evolutionary theorist.

The problem may be my focus on nutrient-dependent receptor-mediated amino acid substitutions in species from bacteria to humans (non-viral organisms). Since I am not a virologist or physicist,I'm not sure that the laws of physics apply to viruses and their replication.

If they do, natural selection for random mutations is not likely to result in amino acid substitutions because the thermodynamics of changes in organism-level thermoregulation preclude such randomness. Stability of protein biosynthesis and degradation that probably depends on protein folding must somehow be controlled. Besides, I don't know how random mutations in viruses could be naturally selected for inclusion in the human virome (or in the virome of any organism capable of thermoregulating its thermodynamic intercellular signaling).

If the Second Law of Thermodynamics does not apply to viruses, which means the chemical bonds that enable the amino acid substitutions can form at random and somehow be naturally selected, the details of biophysical constraints in this article seems out of place, since I do not think in terms of constrained random mutations and natural selection in mutation-driven evolution.

Hopefully, someone with a background in biophysics will address my confusion in case others are confused. In addition, I wonder if the consequences of understanding the evolutionary mechanisms that govern viruses extend to consequences important to understanding the evolution of species from bacteria to humans via constrained random mutations and natural selection?

Submitted on Thu, 11/21/2013 - 22:04