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In this issue:
H1N1 Similarity to 1918 Flu Could Explain Immunity in Older People
LISA Symposium to Explore Gravity Waves
Juneteenth Celebration 2010

SLAC Today

Tuesday - June 22, 2010

H1N1 Similarity to 1918 Flu Could Explain Immunity in Older People

Binding of a human antibody (red/yellow) from an individual born before 1918 to the 1918 hemagglutinin (solid blue and grey). This antibody can neutralize both 1918 and 2009 pandemic H1N1 viruses. (Image: Damian Ekiert, The Scripps Research Institute.)

Last year's H1N1 "swine flu" virus pandemic was unusual in that it disproportionately affected the young. People over the age of around 65 showed much less vulnerability to H1N1 than to more typical flu strains, suggesting that this group of people might have been exposed to a similar virus more than three decades ago.

The 2009 H1N1 strain shows another atypical property in the structure of its protein coat: its hemagglutinin, or HA, subunit is the same subtype as the regular seasonal flu strains. Most pandemics are caused by viruses with novel HA domains.

The HA protein extends out of the virus surface and is responsible for binding the virus to the cell it will infect. Because it is located on the surface of the virus, HA is often targeted by antibodies.

A group of researchers led by Ian Wilson of The Scripps Research Institute has found structural similarity between last year's H1N1 strain and the influenza virus that also caused a pandemic in 1918. They used Beamline 9-2 at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource to solve the three-dimensional structure of the HA subunit of the 2009 H1N1 virus to 2.6 Å resolution. They compared the structure of HA in the present H1N1 versus the 1918 flu strains. Their analysis shows a striking similarity in the surface residues, with decreasing similarity between H1N1 and viruses in years after 1918, and a significant drop in similarity around 1940. The researchers also solved a 2.8 Å crystal structure of the 1918 HA bound to an antibody, which shows that the region that is conserved between the 2009 and 1918 strains matches the area recognized by the immune system.

The authors conclude that the resistance of older people to the current H1N1 virus is likely due to antibodies they acquired from flu strains in the early 20th century.

To learn more about this research, see the full scientific highlight.

(Image: Aurora Aguero.)

LISA Symposium to Explore Gravity Waves

SLAC will host the eighth International LISA Symposium from June 28 through July 2, bringing together 300 researchers from all over the world to discuss the latest advances in the hunt for gravitational waves. The Laser Interferometer Space Antenna is a joint venture between NASA and the European Space Agency to investigate the cosmological sources of low-frequency gravitational waves. Gravity waves are given off by massive stellar objects such as black-hole binaries that form after galactic mergers. Data collected by LISA could provide clues into the nature and evolution of such systems.

The symposium will include daily lectures in Panofsky and Kavli Auditoriums, and meals for registered attendees in an outdoor tent, which will stand on the SLAC Green for the duration of the conference.

The SLAC community is invited to attend poster sessions in the Panofsky breezeway, which will be held on Monday and Thursday, June 28 and July 1, at 5:30 p.m., as well as a public lecture, "Gravitational Waves: Listening to the True Music of the Spheres," by Bernard Schutz of the Albert Einstein Institute, Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Panofsky Auditorium.

(Photo - Juneteenth 2010)
Juneteenth Celebration 2010.
(Photo by Lauren Rugani.)

Juneteenth Celebration 2010

The twenty-first Juneteenth celebration at SLAC paid tribute to many African-American pioneers, including guest of honor Willie Roberts, the first African-American employee at SLAC. This year's celebration commemorated Allensworth, a town founded, financed and governed by African Americans, which has since become a historical state park located between Fresno and Bakersfield.

"We thought this year's Juneteenth would be a great way to honor a piece of history that's right in our own backyard," said committee member Michelle Smith. More than 100 people attended Friday's event, enjoying good weather, traditional cuisine and rhythm-and-blues classics performed by the Bay Area band Vicious Groove.

The event was organized by Wanda Elliott, Al Baker, Sandra Henderson, Michelle Smith, LaPria Genevro, Sandra Pickrom, Mattie Pace, Pamela Wright-Brunache and Henry Gray.

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