New Findings on the H1N1 Virus
Does anybody still remember swine flu? It caused a big uproar last winter and sent millions of people to their doctors to request the Tamiflu vaccine. New findings on the virus have been uncovered by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They found that the H1N1 virus used a new biochemical trick to spread rapidly among humans and cause an epidemic.
Viruses are much more difficult to deal with than bacteria for a number of reasons. They are smaller, often too miniscule to be seen directly with a light microscope. The average virus is 1/100th the size of the average bacteria. There are also some who believe that viruses are not really a form of life, but rather a collection of molecules that multiply in a biological host.
The H1N1 (swine) virus caused a widespread epidemic in the winter of 2009-2010. In the United States alone, 34 million fell ill and about 6,000 people died. Worldwide, it caused over 17,000 deaths. The H1N1 is actually a combination of four separate avian and swine flu viruses that has developed over the past 90 years. It even contains genetic remnants of the great Spanish Influenza of 1918 which killed about 20 million people. Great efforts were made by the CDC and WHO as well as local governments and non-government organizations to keep the harm from the virus to a minimum. Yet, the swine flu persisted for months. How could this be?
It was previously thought to exist exclusively in animal hosts because it lacked two key amino acids (lysine and asparagines), which are essential for a virus to make the successful transition from an animal to a human host. The researchers discovered that the lysine amino acid did in fact exist, but on a different location on the protein. In other words, the structure of the virus evolved to allow it to interact with the cellular structure of mammals.
"This pandemic H1N1 has this mutation and is why it can replicate so well in humans," says Yoshihiro Kawaoka, one of the worldâ€™s foremost authorities on influenza and a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as well as the University of Tokyo. "This gives us another marker to help predict the possibility of future flu pandemics."
The new data can aid in creating better anti-viral agents to stop a flu outbreak which uses a similar amino-acid "trick". However, viruses have been around as long as cellular life has existed on Earth. They are the ultimate survivors and have learned all the biological tricks to survive on this planet. If they are thwarted in their next attempt, they will simply come up with a new trick. And so the cycle will continue ever onward.
Link to published report: http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1001034