Scientists have uncovered the flu's secret formula for effectively evolving within and between host species: balance. The key lies with the flu's unique replication process, which has evolved to produce enough mutations for the virus to spread and adapt to its host environment, but not so many that unwanted genomic mutations lead to the flu's demise (catastrophic mutagenesis). These findings overturn long-held assumptions about how the virus evolves.
Better understanding how the flu virus replicates and evolves to infect new hosts will help scientists find new ways to fight the flu. One option is the development of therapies that take advantage of the new findings by promoting mutagenesis treatments designed to generate increased mutations that will ultimately kill the virus.
"These new findings give us insights into how we may be able to control viral evolution," said Baek Kim, Ph.D., professor in the department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and lead study author. "This research presents an attractive strategy for tackling the flu making the influenza virus kill itself by amplifying the number of mutations made beyond the desired level, which is lethal for the virus."
In the new study, published in the online journal PLoS One, scientists disprove the widely accepted idea that the flu virus evolves so efficiently due to its error-prone replication process. The virus requires a high number of genomic mutations to jump from one species to another, such as from a pig to a human, and up until this point scientists believed the error-prone replication process facilitated the mutations needed for the flu to spread. In reality, its replication process is not prone to errors; rather, the virus goes through multiple rounds of RNA genome replication in each viral infection cycle, allowing it to produce more than enough genomic mutations necessary for viral evolution and host adaptation.
|Contact: Emily Butler|
University of Rochester Medical Center