Modeling Influenza Antigenic Shift and Drift with LEGO Bricks

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The significance of influenza virus for human health requires no introduction. Correspondingly, content related to the Influenza virus and its biology can be found in almost every microbiology and virology syllabus. Pedagogically, the influenza virus is an excellent choice for discussions of many key topics in microbiology/virology and their integration with issues in public health.

The concepts of antigenic shift and drift are a classic example of influenza-related content in the classroom. They are central to understanding viral diversity and evolution and have direct application to vaccine design. Students often struggle to fully understand how both phenomena work mechanistically and thus have limited opportunity to gain an appreciation of the scientific principles behind the flu vaccine’s development and effectiveness. I have developed a simple exercise using conventional LEGO bricks to physically model antigenic shift and drift in order to aid student understanding. The exercise can be executed in any type and level of classroom for about 10 minutes and, if desired, extended to emphasize quantitative skills and molecular biology concepts or to trigger discussion of key issues in vaccine design. The manipulatives used are economical and easy to store, and pose no hazards in the classroom. No safety issues are associated with the described exercise.

Original Citation

Marintcheva, B. (2016). Modeling Influenza Antigenic Shift and Drift with LEGO Bricks. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. 17(2), 300-301. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v17i2.1096


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