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Physical Virology (8594)

July 17, 2017 – July 21, 2017


International Center for Theoretical Physics, Trieste, Italy


Roya Zandi, University of California, Riverside

Matteo Marsili, ICTP, Trieste, Italy

Antonio Celani, ICTP, Trieste, Italy

Rudolf Podgornik, Josef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana

Cristian Micheletti, SISSA, Italy

Vladimir Lorman, Univ. Montpellier 2, France



Physical Virology is indeed a nascent discipline, with the first Gordon Research Conference of this title first held only in 2009 in Galveston, Texas, involving the development and application of physics-based general quantitative methods for characterization of various aspects of the “life cycle” of viruses. These include the structure and self-assembly of viral capsids, the nature and energetics of packaging of the genome, the dynamics and nanoscale interactions responsible for its delivery to the host, the systemic spreading of viral infections and the adaptive response to evolutionary pressure of the highly optimize viral genome.

The recent upsurge in quantitative studies of these open issues has at least three reasons. First, the “molecular minimality” of viruses implies that their life cycle must rely on passive physical mechanisms to an extent that has no parallel in organizationally more complex bacteria and eukarya. Second, the continuous advancements in experimental techniques capable of probing the living and inanimate matter at the nanoscale is providing an unprecedented opportunity to characterize in detail the structural and dynamical behavior of viruses, both in vitro and in vivo. In parallel, the proteinaceous viral shells serve as platform technologies enabling unique applications in nanotechnology, materials, bioengineering, and medicine. Based on their highly symmetrical structures, virus-based nanoparticles have a high propensity to self-assemble into higher-order crystalline structures, yielding hierarchical hybrid materials. Last but not least, the current focused interest in order to understand the novel viral outbreaks, adding additional relevance of the topic also to scientists in developing countries.

Successful physics-based approaches to virology necessarily build on the insight and expertise of other disciplines, primarily biology, but also chemistry and physics. The workshop would be most successful if researchers that are experts in these areas would be brought in contact with physical scientists interested in analytical or numerical studies. Developing descriptions that extend beyond a particular type of viruses would be an important aim.

Apart from the meeting of the experts, we also plan to offer a mini-school format on physical virology during the first two days of the workshop. The focus of this mini-school will be at training of young scientists. The primary goal of the school is to help junior participants that are starting their careers in physical virology and related fields of biophysics to follow more advanced talks.

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