Published on June 21st, 2012 | by James Johnson0
Bird Flu Study Mutates H5N1, Raises Concern Of Airborne Strain
The H5N1 avian influenza strain has been receiving extra attention lately after two controversial experiments increased the virus’ power and made it airborne.
In one experiment researchers created an H5N1 strain that passed through the air among ferrets, an animal that is often used to determine human flu infection potential. The new strain of the virus did not kill the ferrets but it shows the possibility that the virus could mutate into an airborne killer.
According to virologist Derek Smith at a Cambridge University press conference:
“One of the next key questions is, ‘How likely is it that such a virus could evolve in nature?’”
Smith then added:
“It’s now clear that we’re living on a fault line. It could really do something. What we need to now is how likely that is.”
The project started by genetically modifying H5N1 to create three mutations that were identified in previous pandemic flu strains. After infecting ferrets the researchers would swab the infected group, pass on the strain to other ferrets and then repeat the cycle. By doing so researchers mimicked the chain of infection among many people.
As the virus moved along some strains learned to adapt more openly until the virus was able to transmit by way of a cough or sneeze.
It only took 10 stages for the H5N1 virus to become airborne and just five mutations.
Because the ferret’s in the last stage did not die it is likely that the virus weakens as it mutates, although that outcome is far from certain in humans.
Next researchers looked for those same mutations in nature and while they were found they most often occurred alone or in pairs.
[More Info: Wired]