A new study reconstructing the evolutionary tree of flu viruses challenges conventional wisdom and solves some of the mysteries surrounding flu outbreaks of historical significance.
The study, published in the journal Nature, provides the most comprehensive analysis to date of the evolutionary relationships of influenza virus across different host species over time. In addition to dissecting how the virus evolves at different rates in different host species, the study challenges several tenets of conventional wisdom, for example the notion that the virus moves largely unidirectionally from wild birds to domestic birds rather than with spillover in the other direction. It also helps resolve the origin of the virus that caused the unprecedentedly severe influenza pandemic of 1918.
The new research is likely to change how scientists and health experts look at the history of influenza virus, how it has changed genetically over time and how it has jumped between different host species. The findings may have implications ranging from the assessment of health risks for populations to developing vaccines.
"We now have a really clear family tree of theses viruses in all those hosts including birds, humans, horses, pigs and once you have that, it changes the picture of how this virus evolved," said Michael Worobey, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, who co-led the study with Andrew Rambaut, a professor at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. "The approach we developed works much better at resolving the true evolution and history than anything that has previously been used."
Worobey explained that "if you don't account for the fact that the virus evolves at a different rates in each host species, you can get nonsense nonsensical results about when and from where pandemic viruses emerged."
"Once you resolve the evolutionary trees for the
|Contact: Daniel Stolte|
University of Arizona