New way to identify mutations of flu virus
Irish scientists have developed a “family tree” for the influenza virus, something that will help rapid identification of new strains of the bug.
In particular it will help warn whether a more virulent and contagious form of the virus has emerged.
The flu virus undergoes regular mutation, something that makes it more difficult for the body’s immune system to defeat it. The new identification system makes it easier and faster to see whether any mutation represents a particular health hazard, said Prof James McInerney who led the research at the department of biology, NUI Maynooth.
“Our research has produced a system that facilitates the rapid identification of a strain of influenza which can have direct implications for our preparedness for the virus,” he said.
Changes in flu
The family tree or model offers a quick way to spot changes in flu DNA caused by a process known as “reassortment”, he said. Different strains of the virus arise when it undergoes reassortment with other human flu forms or with pig or bird influenza.
The model identifies the evolutionary process for various genetic segments of importance to how virulent an emergent strain might be and compares their evolutionary histories against others to see if they are the same or different.
If they are different, then a computer analysis calculates how different they are, information that could tell how new or dangerous a reassorted virus might be.
The model could be used to monitor influenza globally to detect reassortant strains, Prof McInerney said.
“Learning from the past in terms of viral mixing and mutation will help us to prepare for the future and we may not end up with the influenza pandemics we have historically witnessed,” he said.