What do fireflies and viruses have in common?

Oxford Mathematician Soumya Banerjee talks about his current work in progress.

"On warm summer days, fireflies mesmerise us with their glowing lights. They produce this cold light using a light-emitting molecule, the luciferin, and a complementary enzyme, luciferase. This process is known as bioluminescence.

Scientists have now genetically engineered this process in viruses. After infecting cells, these modified viruses (called replicons) produce light using the firefly genes. Recently this was used to study how West Nile virus (similar to Zika virus) infects cells.

I have now developed a mathematical model to analyse how firefly genes produce luminescence in these virus infected cells. The model predicts how the luminescence or brightness would gradually decrease as the cells infected by the virus are slowly killed off. This was then matched to experimental data.

The mathematical models predict that some cells in the lymph node live for about 12 hours after being infected with the virus. These cells also release the most virus into the blood. The work suggests that these particular cell types can be targeted using therapies such as anti-viral medication to fight the infection."

You can read more about the work which is at pre-publication stage here.