In his study, Perez used the avian H9N2 influenza virus, one that is on the list of candidates for human pandemic potential. Using reverse genetics, a technique whereby individual genes from viruses are separated, selected, and put back together, Perez and his team created a hybrid human-avian virus. Their research hybrid has internal human flu genes and surface avian flu genes from the H9N2 virus. Though it comes from a different strain of avian flu than the one that contributed to the hybrid virus now causing the swine flu outbreak, Perez's research virus is similar in origin to the swine flu virus, in that both involved a combination of avian and human influenza viruses.
Perez infected ferrets (considered a good model for human influenza transmission) with the virus he created, and allowed the virus to mutate in the species. Before long, healthy ferrets that shared air space but not physical space with the infected ferret had the virus, showing that the virus had mutated to spread by respiratory droplets.
When the genetic sequences of the mutant virus and original hybrid virus were compared, the only differences were five amino acid mutations, three on the surface, and two internally. Two of the surface mutations were determined to be solely responsible for supporting respiratory droplet transmission. Because so few mutations were necessary to make the hybrid H9N2 transmissible this way, they concluded that after an animal-human hybrid influenza virus forms in nature, a human pandemic of this virus is potentially just a few mutations away.
"We do not know if the mutat
|Contact: Lee Tune|
University of Maryland