College Park, MD (June 17, 2010) — “Robust” is an adjective appreciatively applied to certain vintage wines, but when describing viruses and pathogens, robustness is a property that may be much less desirable. It evokes drug resistant microbes and other superbugs that can wreak havoc as researchers struggle to deal with new pandemics. How can we undercut this robustness?
A study in the journal Chaos, which is published by the American Institute of Physics (AIP), examines the ability of organisms to survive and sustain themselves in the face of various kinds of change. C. Brandon Ogbunugafor and his team at Yale University looked at new and existing data to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the study of robustness as a formal concept and its application in infectious systems. They found that while one must be careful in defining and applying the premise of robustness, the infectious disease paradigm was full of examples where further application might be useful. While preliminary, Dr. Ogbunugafor’s work could have far-reaching implications in a world with increasing numbers of drug-resistant strains of disease.
“We believe that further application of the robustness concept, with experiments designed to test it in other systems, might aid in how we study and treat infectious diseases of various kinds,” Ogbunugafor says. “This is quite exciting, as it uncovers fertile ground for the application of an exciting concept in the context of infectious diseases that is highly relevant to everyday life.”
While there are still a number of unanswered questions, researchers are hopeful that the application of this concept could help predict how organisms evolve. Ultimately, Ogbunugafor predicts that the application of the robustness concept could serve as a “Rosetta Stone” for predictive evolution, which might constitute the next paradigm shift in evolutionary biology. “Perhaps by understanding how robustness manifests in diseases like influenza and malaria, for example, we’ll be better able to predict drug resistant variants before they arise and stay a step ahead of the enemy in the ubiquitous arms race between us and the microbes that threaten our well-being,” he says.
The article, “On the Possible Role of Robustness in the Evolution of Infectious Diseases” by C. Brandon Ogbunugafor et al will appear in Chaos: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Nonlinear Science. See: http://Chaos.aip.org/
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Chaos is an interdisciplinary journal of non-linear science. The journal is published quarterly by the American Institute of Physics and is devoted to increasing the understanding of nonlinear phenomena and describing the manifestations in a manner comprehensible to researchers from a broad spectrum of disciplines. Special focus issues are published periodically each year and cover topics as diverse as the complex behavior of the human heart to chaotic fluid flow problems. See: http://Chaos.aip.org/
The American Institute of Physics is a federation of 10 physical science societies representing more than 135,000 scientists, engineers, and educators and is one of the world’s largest publishers of scientific information in the physical sciences. Offering partnership solutions for scientific societies and for similar organizations in science and engineering, AIP is a leader in the field of electronic publishing of scholarly journals. AIP publishes 12 journals (some of which are the most highly cited in their respective fields), two magazines, including its flagship publication Physics Today; and the AIP Conference Proceedings series. Its online publishing platform Scitation hosts nearly two million articles from more than 185 scholarly journals and other publications of 28 learned society publishers.