July 10, 2008

Genes Identified For Bird Flu Replication

Researchers have found nearly 100 genes that the H5N1 bird flu virus needs in a host to be able to duplicate.  The finding will help researchers better understand how to keep the virus from reproducing.

In the newest edition of Nature Magazine, the scientists wrote, "All viruses rely on host cell proteins and their associated mechanisms to complete the viral life cycle. Identifying the host molecules that participate in each step of virus replication could provide valuable new targets for antiviral therapy."

Scientists from the U.S., Japan, and Indonesia infected fruit fly cells with genetically altered bird flu virus.

The H5N1 virus was slightly manipulated because fruit flies are not usually susceptible to influenza.

Fruit flies are easier for scientists to study because they have 14,000 genes, which is a relatively small number.

According to Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a leading virologist and bird flu expert at the University of Tokyo, the scientists identified nearly 100 genes that are important for the bird flu virus to replicate.

At least three of these exist in humans.

"We took three and tested them and they were important for flu virus replication (in humans)," he said.

"I presume that many of the other genes we identified are also important for influenza virus replication in humans."

Next, the group plans to narrow in on host genes that the virus needs so it can replicate.

"If you could inhibit (block) the interaction between those (host) proteins and influenza virus proteins, you can inhibit virus replication. This can be a target for development of new drugs," Kawaoka said.

H5N1 primarily remains a disease for birds, but it has killed 243 of the 385 humans it has infected since 2003.

Experts have agreed that the virus could start a pandemic killing millions of people if it ever became easily transmitted in people.

The virus has shown signs that it is developing resistance against the few known remedies.


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