UW-Madison engineer uses experimental and computational methods to understand how viruses spread

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the United States and the world, many are putting their hope in science to bring an end to the virus, or at least make it manageable. But it’s not just virologists and epidemiologists who will find the way forward. Researchers from all sorts of disciplines are pivoting their research to help out with the pandemic.

One is John Yin, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who uses experimental and computational methods to understand how viruses spread. Yin is working on several projects that could have a direct bearing on COVID-19, and says he’s ramping up work on them to help combat the virus.

Yin says it may seem unusual for an engineer to specialize in viruses. But he says looking at these infectious particles through an engineering lens could be very useful. Chemical engineers often think about the ways that raw materials are processed to make products like fuels, plastics or pharmaceuticals. “What’s the connection to viruses? Well, when a virus enters the cell, it essentially turns the cell into a manufacturing process to make more virus,” he says. “Our engineering approaches try to take the molecular and cell biology that’s known and translate the verbal descriptions from biologists into a quantitative description by an engineer. Essentially, we end up writing equations to describe the various processes that are going on inside of this cell.”

Using that quantitative information, Yin uses powerful computers to model how viruses hijack cellular mechanisms to reproduce, how quickly they grow, how much “progeny” they produce, how they spread from cell to cell throughout the body, and even how people can transfer viruses to one another.

Currently, Yin is shifting some of his research to focus on the novel coronavirus. He says that one long-term project—studying beneficial defective interfering particles—could eventually be relevant to COVID-19.

Read the full article at: https://www.engr.wisc.edu/news/how-a-uw-madison-engineer-could-help-beat-a-virus-at-its-own-game/