1918 pandemic flu arose from a bird virus ; Flu strains get most comprehensive ever analysis

The 'Spanish flu' virus that killed about 50 million people in 1918-1919 had elements that were new to humans of the time, making it highly virulent and geneticists have compiled the genetic sequences of more than 200 different flu samples

VOL.437 NO.7060 DATED 06 OCTOBER 2005

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Public health: 1918 pandemic flu arose from a bird virus (pp 889-893)

The 'Spanish flu' virus that killed about 50 million people in 1918-1919 had
elements that were new to humans of the time, making it highly virulent,
according to an analysis of the final three genes to be sequenced from the
pathogen. The 1918 virus also had several of the same mutations found in the
H5N1 bird flu strain currently spreading in the Far East, showing that such
viruses can cause serious infection without first combining with a flu
strain already adapted to humans.
Scientists led by Jeffery Taubenberger have finished the job started in 1995
of piecing together the complete protein-coding sequence of the 1918 virus,
isolated from preserved remains of victims. Researchers had previously
published sequences for five other gene-containing segments of the flu
genome. As Taubenberger's group reports in this week's Nature, the newly
sequenced genes - encoding proteins called polymerases, which are crucial
for viral replication in human cells - bear striking similarities to those
of flu viruses found only in birds.
This is in contrast to the flu viruses that caused human pandemics in 1957
and 1968, both of which probably combined with human-adapted strains before
becoming killers, the authors add. The mutations shared by the 1918 flu and
the current H5N1 strains may help them replicate more efficiently, perhaps
showing why these viruses can cause such virulent disease.
Jeffery Taubenberger (Armed forces Institute of Pathology, Rockville, MD,
E-mail: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>

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Public health: Flu strains get most comprehensive ever analysis (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature04239

Geneticists have compiled the genetic sequences of more than 200 different
flu samples, in the largest effort yet to uncover the genetic reshuffling
that characterizes this ever-changing virus. The data should shed light on
how viruses are transmitted between different hosts, and how some strains
become more pathogenic than others.
The study, published online this week by Nature, collates the genetic
sequences of 209 strains of influenza A virus, collected in New York State
over several years. As part of the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, the
researchers, led by Steven Salzberg, have deposited the data in a
public-access archive.
The researchers have already identified some areas of the flu genetic
sequence, which encodes just 11 different proteins,that may be important for
the development of virulence. A particular reshuffling of segments, for
example, seems to have been important in the emergence of the 'Fujian-like'
strain in the winter of 2003-04. The researchers now plan to expand their
investigations to avian flu strains to understand better the threat they
pose to humans.
Steven Salzberg (University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA)
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<mailto:[email protected]>

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Published: 05 Oct 2005

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