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EVEscape: Artificial Intelligence for Predicting Virus Mutations

Summary

In a groundbreaking development, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School have created an artificial intelligence tool capable of predicting new virus variants before they emerge. This tool, named EVEscape, has the potential to forecast mutations of […]

EVEscape: Artificial Intelligence for Predicting Virus Mutations

In a groundbreaking development, researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School have created an artificial intelligence tool capable of predicting new virus variants before they emerge. This tool, named EVEscape, has the potential to forecast mutations of the Covid-19 virus during the ongoing pandemic. By studying how viruses mutate in response to the human immune system, the researchers hope that EVEscape will assist in vaccine design and development. The technology has been described by the University of Oxford as a “future predictor.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, waves of different virus variants have emerged, undergoing multiple genetic changes. These mutations have the ability to alter the behavior of the virus, potentially making it more transmissible or evading the recognition and response of the immune system. Towards the end of 2021, the Omicron variant, although not leading to a significant increase in hospitalizations and deaths, managed to infect millions of people.

EVEscape, which stands for Evolutionary Variant Effect model, combines deep learning models of viral evolution with detailed biological and structural information. It predicts the probability of a viral mutation enabling immune evasion, for example, by preventing antibody binding. The research team published their findings in the journal Nature, explaining the workings of EVEscape.

The model was tested using information available at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic in February 2020. It successfully predicted which SARS-CoV-2 mutations would occur and become the most prevalent. The team also discovered which antibody-based therapies would lose their effectiveness as the pandemic progressed and the virus developed mutations to evade these treatments.

The researchers are hopeful that this technology can aid in preventive measures and the design of vaccines targeting concerning variants before they become widespread. Co-author of the study, Pascal Notin, emphasized that if EVEscape had been utilized at the start of the pandemic, it would have been able to “precisely predict” the most common mutations of Covid-19. “This work has immense value for pandemic surveillance efforts and informing vaccine design to be resilient to the emergence of certain risky mutations,” Notin added.

FAQ:

Q: What is EVEscape?
A: EVEscape is an artificial intelligence tool developed by researchers from the University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School to predict new virus variants.

Q: How does EVEscape work?
A: EVEscape combines deep learning models of viral evolution with detailed biological and structural information to forecast the likelihood of immune evasion.

Q: What is the significance of EVEscape?
A: EVEscape can assist in vaccine design by predicting mutations of the virus before they become prevalent and by identifying therapies that may lose their effectiveness.

Q: Has EVEscape been tested?
A: Yes, EVEscape was tested using information available at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and successfully predicted mutations and therapeutic responses.

Q: How can EVEscape contribute to pandemic efforts?
A: EVEscape can aid in preventive measures by targeting concerning variants and informing vaccine design that is resilient to risky mutations.