Swine flu or H1N1: behind the virus pictures

4 May
Negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM): image of swine flu virus from the CDC Influenza Lab

Negative stained transmission electron micrograph (TEM): image of swine flu virus from the CDC Influenza Lab

Looking more closely at the some of the coverage of swine flu, I recognized the (probable) handiwork of a CDC researcher from a lecture I  covered recently at the New York Academy of Sciences about biological imaging.

Amazingly this technology (negative stained transmission electron micrograhs) actually dates back to the 1950s, but it’s fast and still the standard for the quick identification of emerging diseases like H1N1. But identification of viruses this way is still an art, as Charles Humphrey of the CDC pointed out. You can’t just plug an image into a computer and get a machine to identify what kind of virus it most closely matches. The technique requires real people with experience to gather the images and then to interpret them based on patterns of known viruses.

I imagine that Humphrey and his colleagues have been burning some serious midnight oil over the last few weeks.

MAY 5 UPDATE– @robinlloyd99 tweeted a beautiful graphic with images of all kinds of viruses

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2 Responses to “Swine flu or H1N1: behind the virus pictures”

  1. Suzanne Dell'Orto May 6, 2009 at 11:17 pm #

    This is so interesting. Seems like a lot of unusual research has been coming to the surface in the swine flu coverage. I was interested to read about how scientists are using the “Where’s George” dollar bill tracking software to predict how viruses may travel. (New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/04/health/04model.html)

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  1. Weekly Roundup: more interesting (swine) flu science « webb of science - May 8, 2009

    […] crack medical problems (and a shout out to Suzanne for mentioning this in a comment to my earlier post). The New York Times reported on number crunching with several data sets that don’t actually […]

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