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When well-known flu strains 'hook up' dangerous progeny can result
Date:7/13/2011

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- A new University of Maryland-led study finds that 'sex' between the virus responsible for the 2009 flu pandemic (H1N1) and a common type of avian flu virus (H9N2) can produce offspring -- new combined flu viruses -- with the potential for creating a new influenza pandemic.

Of course, viruses don't actually have sex, but University of Maryland virologist Daniel Perez, who directed the new study, says new pandemic viruses are formed mainly through a process called reassortment, which can best be described as viral sexual reproduction. "In reassortment, two viruses enter the same cell; their genetic material is mixed; and new genetically distinct viruses emerge," explains Perez, an associate professor in the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Maryland Campus.

According to Perez and his colleagues many factors are involved in the viability of new viruses that result from reassortment, but the most important is the compatibility of their two sets of viral genes to work together to form functional offspring. The importance of reassortment in the generation of viruses with pandemic potential, the scientists say, was demonstrated in 2009 when a novel H1N1 influenza (pH1N1) virus caused the first influenza pandemic in 40 years. That virus was identified as the product of a three way reassortment, between avian, swine, and human influenza viruses.

In their current study, the researchers looked at the compatibility of the 2009 pandemic pH1N1 virus -- which has some genetic characteristics that may allow it to reassort more easily than other influenza viruses with an influenza strain known as H9N2.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) the week of July 4-8, this new research builds on earlier findings by Perez and his team of the heightened communicability of the H1N1 virus as well as their work on the airborne communicability of H9N2. And it adds knowledg
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Contact: Lee Tune
ltune@umd.edu
301-405-4679
University of Maryland
Source:Eurekalert  

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