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Sunday 27th May 2018

Experts identify bird flu genes

14th July 2008

Experts in Japan, Indonesia and the United States have identified some of the genes in the H5N1 avian influenza virus which enable it to replicate.


The 100 genes were found in a population of fruit fly which had been infected with a modified version of the bird flu virus.

All viruses rely on host cell proteins and their associated mechanisms to complete the viral life cycle, providing a possible route for treatments to target bird flu.

Experts including Yoshihiro Kawaoka, a leading virologist and bird flu expert at the University of Tokyo, infected fruit fly cells with genetically altered H5N1 virus.

The fruit fly has a relatively small number of genes - 14,000 - making it a simpler subject for studies.

The team found some proteins that were important for influenza virus replication, identifying about 100 genes. At least three of these proteins exist in human cells, and are also important for flu virus replication in humans.

Further testing will be needed to see if any other genes are repeated in humans. After that, the team will turn its attention to host proteins, onto which the virus binds in cells.

Kawaoka said future drugs could inhibit the interaction between the host proteins and the virus, stopping it from replicating itself.

The H5N1 virus is still primarily an avian disease, which has ripped through poultry flocks mostly in Asia and Africa since 2003.

But it is capable of limited transmission to humans, and has killed 243 of the 385 people it has infected to date.

Experts fear the virus could mutate to a form easily transmissible between humans, sparking the next influenza pandemic which could kill millions globally.

Meanwhile, Japan's health ministry said it had found no evidence that the antiviral drug Tamiflu causes abnormal behaviour in young people. Some reports had associated oseltamivir with psychiatric symptoms including suicide in young people, leading to concerns among regulators.

Many countries are stockpiling Tamiflu, manufactured by Swiss-based Roche, as it is believed to be the best hope in the event of an influenza pandemic.

Three rounds of review by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have found no evidence that oseltamivir contributed to neuropsychiataric events. 


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