Friday, 4 May 2012

Bird Flu can Spread in Mammals, New Research

The results, showing an engineered flu strain can spread easily between ferrets, derive from a controversial study that stirred debate over fears of a bio terrorism threat.

In a long-awaited study that helped prompt a contentious debate over the wisdom of conducting research that has the potential to help as well as harm, scientists reported Wednesday that they had engineered a mutant strain of bird flu that can spread easily between ferrets - a laboratory animal that responds to flu viruses much as people today do.

That means that bird flu has "the potential to acquire the ability to transmit in mammals," mentioned University of Wisconsin virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka, who led the study.

Only a couple of mutations were necessary for the transformation, he additional, which suggests that a much more contagious strain of bird flu could emerge on its own without targeted prodding by scientists inside the lab.

Kawaoka's discovery, published online immediately after a months-long delay by the journal Nature, dampens hopes that the deadly H5N1 virus simply wasn't capable of becoming a highly contagious bug in mammals, including humans.

He and his team developed a hybrid bird flu virus that combined an H5 hem agglutinin gene - which helps viruses bind to host cells - with genes from 2009's pandemic H1N1flu, also known as swine flu.

Using a sort of selective breeding to favor flu strains whose H5 protein could bind with human rather than bird host cells, the researchers developed a version of the virus with four mutations in its H5 that sickened ferrets.

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