Bird flu shuffle probes viral compatibility

When influenza viruses that infect birds and humans meet in the same cell, they can shuffle their genomes and produce new strains that might have pandemic potential. Think of this process, called reassortment, as viruses having sex.
 
In the last several years, public health officials have been monitoring two varieties of bird flu viruses with alarming properties: H7N9 and H5N8. Scientists at Emory University School of Medicine have been probing the factors that limit reassortment between these strains and a well-known strain (H3N2) that has been dominating the last few flu seasons in the United States.
 
The good news is that “packaging signals” on the bird flu viral RNA genomes were often incompatible with the H3N2 viruses. That means it could be difficult for segments of the genome from the bird viruses to get wrapped up with the human viruses. Mix + match still occurred at a low level, particularly with H5N8.
 
The results were published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

IMP and MMG faculty member Dr. Anice Lowen and IMP graduate student Maria White are mentioned in this story.

Click here to view the full story in the Emory News Center. The story was also featured in Lab Land - The Emory Health Sciences Research Blog.