Mathematical Virology: Geometry as a key to the virosphere

Reidun Twarock, University of York. Virtual seminar

Viruses encapsulate their genetic material in protein containers that act akin to molecular Trojan horses, protecting viral genomes between rounds of infection and facilitating their release into the host cell environment. In the majority of viruses, including major human pathogens, these containers have icosahedral symmetry. Many open questions in virology can therefore be addressed through the lens of viral geometry. Mathematical techniques from group, graph, tiling and lattice theory, in partnership with biophysical modelling, bioinformatics, and stochastic simulations, can therefore act as drivers of discovery in virology. In this talk, I will discuss our models of symmetry breaking in viral life cycles, as well as mathematical approaches, using graph and percolation theory, to model virus assembly and genome release. The talk will finish with applications of these geometric and mechanistic insights in the context of multi-scale models of viral infections, and discuss potential applications in anti-viral therapy and bionanotechnology.