Back in his school days, science was a powerful magnet that kept pulling Dr. Jesse Bloom into many possible directions. It didn’t matter if it was math, computer sciences, biology, chemistry and physics. He loved them all.
At any other time, he may have been forced to choose one field alone, but Bloom came into science at the right time, as computers were becoming deeply integrated with biology. In one fell swoop, Bloom found his calling.
Today, Bloom carries dual appointments at the Hutchinson Center. He is an evolutionary biologist in the Basic Sciences Division. And his computational expertise also earned him a spot in the Public Health Sciences Division’s Herbold Computational Biology Program.
And yet, for Bloom, it is not about the titles. His background in chemistry, biology and computer sciences has allowed him to indulge his insatiable appetite for knowledge in a field that has major implications for our health.
The Bloom Lab’s research focuses on various aspects of the molecular evolution of proteins and viruses, particularly influenza. He is looking at the mechanisms that allow the flu to evolve its genes. So far, he has discovered that one of the flu genes built up a series of mutations in a particular order, and this is the only order in which the intermediate viruses were able to reproduce.
“In my lab, we use computers to understand and visualize evolutionary information,” he said. “The challenge for us is to make sense of all this information, which is telling us something about how a virus is changing in a significant way.
“We don’t really understand why certain viruses—like HIV and influenza—are so good at escaping from our vaccines, while others, such as polio and measles, aren’t. We would like to better understand the constraints of evolution.”
Understanding how the flu builds resistance against such drugs as Tamiflu, Bloom said, could help us “get a step ahead of the virus. The challenge for us is how can we stop this resistance from evolving.”
And while he is currently focused on studying the influenza virus, he also considers questions about other diseases.
“How do viruses change through evolution? And what do these changes tell us about our own immune system? We could still be casting in the dark, but basic science has given us a rational basis to search for the answers,” Bloom said.