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Can This Special Snot Stop the Flu? | Freethink On the Fringe

October 22, 2019

– The flu sucks. Every year it affects millions of people and kills several thousand of them. I’m talking about actual influenza. High fever, cold sweats,
constant body aches, these B-role actors
probably don’t have the flu. You can tell because
they’re wearing makeup and if you have the flu
you’re too busy praying for a quick death to put on mascara. – I’m so sorry. – Anyway, the flu is a right beast and you can’t beat it because
it evolves too quickly for us to develop a lasting vaccine. But thanks to some snot
from cancer patients fighting the flu, we
finally got a sneak peak at how evolution works. What we learned could change how we view the entire universe. Or maybe just help us
make a better flu vaccine. This is On the Fringe. A show about weird ideas that
just might change the world. – Viruses like influenza have
a very short generation time. For humans a generation
tends to be 25-30 years. For a virus like influenza,
it’s less than 12 hours. This is Jesse Bloom, an
evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutch Cancer
Center in Seattle. He’s super cool and super
smart and everything, but we’re actually here to see
one of his graduate students. – My name is Catherine
Chu, I’m a graduate student at the University of Washington and I study how viruses evolves. I’ve been really interested in viruses because they’re some of the fastest evolving things on Earth. We usually think about
that change happening over really, really long spans of time, like thousands or millions of years. But I’m super interested in
how living things can change in much shorter amounts of time. Just maybe days or weeks or months. – The reason the flu
is so difficult to beat is the same reason it’s
great for studying evolution. It evolves super fast. So you make a vaccine to fight
one strain of the flu virus and before you know it, poof, it evolves and you need a new one. – For a long time I was kind
of abstractly just curious about this question of how
much viruses could possibly change within someone in the
short time that they’re sick. But it seemed to me
that this was something that would just be really,
really hard to study. – For one thing, most
people who get the flu don’t even go to the doctor,
let alone have their mucous tested to see if it has the flu virus. Even then, it would only
be a single data point. It didn’t seem like it
was possible to study how the flu evolved in
one person over time until her advisor made a random discovery. – I was down in the coffee
shop at the Fred Hutch and I was talking to Steve
Pergum who’s in charge of infection control for
immunocompromised cancer patients. I said you know, “What
are you up to these days?” and we started talking. – He said, “You know, I’m
having trouble getting samples “about patients that have multiple samples “in patients that have flu. “If you have any ideas about
where I could get that.” – Turns out Steve was sitting
on a freezer full frozen gold. If by gold, you mean mucous from cancer patients fighting the flu. Well most flu infections
might last a couple of days, the immuno-suppressed patients at the Fred Hutch Cancer
Center had flu infections that lasted for months. And there were samples from
across the entire time line. Catherine had all the samples she needed. She began to sequence the
RNA of the flu samples and immediately had a surprising result. Like really, really surprising. The first set of samples
that Catherine sequenced showed that the flu evolved
in ways that no one expected. – I saw these two mutations
that were almost perfect matches with each other. They arose within a couple weeks, they made up about half
of the viral population, and then they kind of went away. In that initial analysis, I realized that there was a lot
of evolution going on. It was pretty complicated. Something interesting was happening. – By using deep sequencing techniques, Catherine wasn’t just seeing
the average virus on a patient. She was seeing all the different strains and how prevalent each of them were. Because she had multiple
samples over time, she could see how it changed
over course of the infection. She could literally see evolution. Then she sequenced the samples
from the other three patients and that’s when things got really weird. – When she finally sort
of put this data together and she looked at these different patients and she saw the same mutations appearing in multiple different patients. We saw the evolutionary
processes in some ways repeating itself multiple times, that to me was kind of the eureka moment. – Now, mutations are supposed
to be completely random. So it’s very surprising
to see several patients each having the same mutations. – These are four patients who
are different from each other. They’re not giving each other the flu. They have very, very
complicated medical histories. Very, very different infections. And yet, starting from
different viral backgrounds, we see, in many cases, the
exact same mutations occurring and reaching high frequencies
within these patients. – Not only did these patients have some of the same flu mutations
arising independently from one another, they
also shared commonalities with how the flu evolved globally. The snot from these
patients was a preview of how the flu would then
evolve out in the world. Sort of like looking
through a crystal ball, except it’s made of boogers, and seeing a glimpse of the future. Someday soon, this means we
can expect better forecasting for flu vaccines, but it also means we have a new perspective
on evolution as a whole. It raises huge questions
about how predictable or repeatable any evolutionary process is. But the most important take away is this, a 20-something graduate
student in Seattle changed the way the
world looks at evolution. You’re watching videos on the internet, which is great for us. Don’t stop watching
these videos, please God.


  • Reply Gymno July 20, 2018 at 7:19 pm


  • Reply Kareem Abdel Hakam July 20, 2018 at 7:20 pm

    This is amazing! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply Bharat TheJaiswal July 20, 2018 at 7:30 pm

    The taunt in the last was very graceful thank you.

  • Reply Anthony Connaghan July 20, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    Eat properly and you rarely get sick.

  • Reply Guy that knows some things July 20, 2018 at 9:55 pm

    Hahahaha, don't stop watching

  • Reply no way July 21, 2018 at 1:36 am


  • Reply Jalen Varela July 21, 2018 at 4:29 am

    This is an under rated channel

  • Reply Austin Washburn July 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

    Maybe because the virus isn't so complex, it's version of convergent evolution is by becoming a certain type strain

  • Reply TheProPilot July 24, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Maybe the strains are like family members aging and actually just as they age theyโ€™re profile changes. Kind of like how I have gained weight with age and lost hair… etc Iโ€™ll stop there lol

  • Reply Gleb Iaskevich July 24, 2018 at 5:42 pm

    Why such a great content get so few views? Keep going guys; hope u find more money for advertising ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Reply tayyab mehdi July 28, 2018 at 10:35 am

    The ending though! ๐Ÿ˜€

  • Reply Prashant Verma July 28, 2018 at 3:05 pm

    Watched all videos from this channel.

  • Reply david dongo August 3, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    because its not random! what are the odds of 3-4 unrelated patience with the same or not the same flu to start with changing into the same thing or parts of the same thing. think about it statistically that not going to happen. the programming of the code was already present and when exposed to certain environment certain genes got turn on or off thus giving the same changes. its programmed with same instructions to begin with !

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