Archive for April 19th, 2012

Engineered H5N1: the wheels grind on, and on, and on….

19 April, 2012

The Scientist has a nice collection of articles on this topic, which I have commented on all over the place, so I though I might consolidate some of it in one place.

In response to the article entitled “Deliberating Over Danger“, I wrote the following:

The point I and others have made before is that H5N1 and other influenza viruses are not waiting for us to let engineered versions loose, before they cause pandemics: all of the mutations noted by the Fouchier and Kawaoka groups are almost certainly present in the several environments where H5N1 viruses are now endemic – and all it takes for all of them to be present together is a little more mixing.

Don’t discount other flu subtypes, either: while everyone is obsessing about H5N1, H3N2 is busy popping out of pigs in the USA; H9N2 in birds in Bangladesh; H5N2 in ostriches in South Africa – and all it would take is one or a couple of fortuitous reassortments, and a whole new flu virus could be unleashed.

While the “deadly” H5N1s are being worked on in lockdown facilities.

If we don’t know what the virus does, we won’t know what it can do. If we don’t know what to look for, we may be taken unawares, when the next 1918-type pandemic strikes.

I want to have universal flu vaccines by then – so we won’t HAVE to worry about a new flu


There are also three newer articles covering the controversy: these are

  • H5N1 Researcher to Defy Dutch Gov’t?
  • (with my comment – “Export permit to publish something?  Really?  A complete misapplication of laws to material that should not be subject to them.”)
  • White House Weighs in on H5N1
  • Flu Review Criticized
  • (with my comment – “So after a full and frank hearing did not go his way, after changes had been made to the paper in question (Fouchier’s), Osterholm complains.  Such is life….”

There is the slightly older article – “Bird Flu Papers to Publish” – describing the reversal of the NSABB’s decision to ask for redaction of the two papers describing mammal-to-mammal aerosol-transmissible H5N1.

An interesting article also describes Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s results:

“First, he introduced two mutations—N224K and Q226L—into the haemagglutinin (HA) protein of H5N1 that made the virus capable of sticking to receptors on human tracheal cells. Then he created a chimeric virus by combining the mutated HA protein with genes from the H1N1 virus, which sparked a pandemic in 2009. Kawaoka identified another HA mutation, called N158D, that allowed the virus to spread between ferrets that were not in direct physical contact. A fourth mutation, T318I, also showed up in the H5N1 strain, but its role in making the virus more transmissible among mammals is less clear.”

So there you are: an actual recipe for aerosol-transmissible H5N1.  It was always going to come out somehow, and now these two papers will probably the most cited flu papers ever.  Nothing like a little hype!  Meanwhile, H5 and its brothers and sisters are out there mutating away, with no help needed from anyone.  Roll on universal flu vaccines!!

Russell Kightley’s Scientific Illustration Blog: Influenza Virus Structure Animation

19 April, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“I have just created an animation of a rotating influenza virus. The sequence begins with a still of the cutaway virus with various parts labelled. The labels disappear and the virus rotates, then returns to the starting graphic. This is in high definition and looks good full screen on a 27″ iMac. It is the latest addition to my YouTube Channel.”


Definitely, graphics courtesy of Russell Kightley Media…B-)  STRONGLY commended!

See on

From herd immunity and complacency to group panic: How vaccine scares unfold

19 April, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

A new study, published in PLoS Computational Biology, shows how worries over vaccine risks can allow preventable contagious diseases, such as measles and whooping cough, to make a comeback.


I remember commenting, some 17 years ago, that people in Kikwit should be more concerned than people in the urban USA about Ebola risks from the outbreak then occurring – but probably weren’t, largely because they knew that spread required contact, AND they had no internet to spread the panic.  Virally…in fact, one correspondent coined the term “Ebola Preston” to account for the fear-of-virus propagated by Richard Preston, whose book “The Hot Zone” piggy-backed the Ebola epidemic to huge sales.


The bottom line is that people who obsess about safety of vaccines are the ones who are themselves almost certainly protected because THEIR parents followed public health guidleines – but they will be opening their kids up to all of the old scourges that they themselves were protected against.


Because they are functionally STUPID.

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Heterologous RNA silencing suppressors from both plant- and animal-infecting viruses support Plum pox virus infection

19 April, 2012

See on Scoop.itVirology News

“HCPro, the RNA silencing suppressor (RSS) of viruses belonging to the Potyvirus genus in the Potyviridae family, is a multifunctional protein presumably involved in all essential steps of the viral infection cycle. Recent studies have shown that Plum pox potyvirus (PPV) HCPro can be successfully replaced by Cucumber vein yellowing ipomovirus P1b, a sequence unrelated RSS from a virus of the same family. In order to gain insight into the requirement of a particular RSS to establish a successful potyviral infection, we tested the ability of different heterologous RSSs from both plant- and animal-infecting viruses to substitute HCPro. Making use of engineered PPV chimeras, we show that PPV HCPro can be functionally replaced by some, but not all, unrelated RSSs, including the NS1 protein of the mammalian-infecting Influenza A virus.”


Fascinating stuff: shows how promiscuois, or possibly how universal, the machinery for avoiding silencing is – and how funadamental to the life cycles of viruses.  One could almost argue “virus altruism”?

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