When diagnosticians from the University of Minnesota ran into difficulties determining exactly what type of flu was in a pig sample from two Missouri farms, they turned to Richt and Wenjun Ma, who is now a research assistant professor at K-State.
In two weeks, Ma said, they had sequenced the virus, which turned out to be H2N3 -- not to be confused with H3N2 that showed up in Riley County. This information helped Ma, Richt and U.S. Department of Agriculture colleagues develop a vaccine for it and create better diagnostic tools.
"When diagnostic labs get a sample, they now can use the diagnostic tools we developed," Richt said.
Their work was published in 2007 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious academic journal.
But how do influenza strains get their names anyway? H1N1, H1N2, H2N3, H3N1, H3N2, H5N1 look like a jumble of numbers and letters to most of us, but they actually tell scientists quite a bit about particular strains of influenza viruses.
Anderson and Richt explained that influenza subtypes get their names from the unique combination of proteins on the outer layer of the virus. The H stands for hemagglutinin, for which there are 16 types, and the N is for neuraminidase, for which there are nine types.
Richt said that in mammals -- humans, pigs, horses, dogs, marine mammals and the like -- only a few of these H's and N's can be consistently isolated, whereas all 16 H's and nine N's have been found in waterfowl and seabirds. He said that when mammalian virus strains meld, or "mate," with avian strains they may become virulent in other animals like humans and in pigs.
Because these proteins are on the outer layer of the virus, they make first contact with the receptors that line the animals' respiratory tracts and with their immune systems. That also means these
|SOURCE Kansas State University|
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