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Scientists create mutant bird flu ....

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    Posted: June 15 2017 at 1:51pm

Scientists create mutant bird flu to prepare for possibility of deadly global pandemic

'We need to know what the virus could do in nature, so we can be alert and aware if we start seeing these changes,' says professor

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bird-flu-china.jpgA worker places a chicken in a bin during a cull in Hong Kong in 2014 after the deadly H7N9 virus was discovered in poultry imported from China AFP

Deadly strains of bird flu have so far largely been caught by people who work closely with poultry – but scientists fear the virus could mutate and cause the world’s next devastating pandemic if it begins to spread from human to human.

In a bid to stay one step ahead of the disease and prepare for a potentially disastrous outbreak before it happens, researchers have created their own mutations in a lab that could allow the virus to infiltrate human lungs.

Professor James Paulson of The Scripps Research Institute in California and his team conducted their experiments on a key protein that peppers the surface of the virus and binds to the cells it infects.

The scientists did not alter the virus itself due to the extreme danger posed by such infectious agents, which if unleashed could potentially cause a man-made global pandemic.

"We need to know what the virus could do in nature, so we can be alert and aware if we start seeing these changes," Professor Paulson told The Independent.

"The virus is infecting humans, but it hasn't yet transmitted from human to human."

The study, published in the journal Public Library of Science Pathogens, described how subtle alterations to the protein's genetic programming produced strains that switched their target from bird to human cells.

The mutant proteins latched onto cells taken from human trachea tissue – suggesting they could infiltrate human airways.

bird-flu.jpg
Ducks culled at a farm near Nafferton, East Yorkshire where a strain of bird flu was confirmed in 2014 (Getty)

“H7N9 avian influenza virus is widespread in chickens in China and infects human exposed to live poultry but does not yet transmit from person to person,” said Professor Wendy Barclay, Chair in Influenza virology at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the research.

”So the question now is, could the virus recapitulate this switch in nature?“

Professor Barclay said the study could help create a vaccine to prevent a deadly outbreak on the scale of historical pandemics such as the Black Death, which killed more than 75 million people in the 14th century.

”Predicting which influenza virus will cause the next human pandemic is both of scientific and public health interest. We can't afford to make vaccines against all of them, so knowing which ones to worry about would allow efforts and funds to be focused,” she said.

The H7N9 strain was unknown in humans until the first cases of people catching the virus from poultry were reported in China in March 2013.

So far there have been 1,552 confirmed cases of human infection including 596 deaths, according to latest figures from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organisation.

china-h7n9.jpg
An H7N9 bird flu patient being treated in a hospital in central China's Hubei province (Getty)

Most people infected develop severe and potentially fatal pneumonia. Some H7N9 sub-strains have already become resistant to antiviral drugs.

The researchers altered three key amino acids, or protein building blocks, that form part of the structure of the infectious protein haemagglutinin.

Avian flu viruses coated with the changed haemagglutinin may be able to infect human cells in the same way as human inflenza – but while possible, this is thankfully very unlikely, said Professor Paulson.

"These mutations that we’ve identified haven’t occurred. Maybe it’s because there are three of them," he said.

"It’s very easy for a virus to make a single mutation, and two is much more difficult. To make three is even more difficult. We take some comfort in the fact it took three mutations to really make the transformation."

He added: "With these kind of changes, it might become more like a regular human influenza virus, that replicates in the upper respiratory tract, and not be so lethal."

Dr Fiona Culley, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London and spokesperson for the British Society for Immunology, said the exact combination of mutations needed for bird flu to be able to attach to human lung cells was possible but “relatively low”.

“Flu viruses are known to be able to mutate their outer surface fairly readily. This is a strategy used by circulating viruses which already infect humans to slowly change their appearance to avoid existing immunity within a population (in a process known as genetic drift),” she said.

“The authors found that certain combinations of three mutations were needed for the bird flu to be able to attach to human lung cells. Some of the individual mutations have been seen naturally, but these combinations of mutations have not,” said Dr Culley.

12 monkeys!!!!!
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BIO_WEAPON....................

12 Monkeys
12 monkeys!!!!!
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the end sequence of 12 monkeys...............how it was spread.......

https://youtu.be/5Zht43WrCmk
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A Few Genetic Tweaks To Chinese Bird Flu Virus Could Fuel A Human Pandemic

Audio will be available later today.

A sometimes lethal strain of H7N9 bird flu that has infected about 1,500 people in China doesn't spread easily among humans — yet. But research published Thursday suggests just a few genetic mutations might be enough to make it quite contagious.

Pasieka/Science Source

A study published Thursday shows how a bird flu virus that's sickening and killing people in China could mutate to potentially become more contagious.

Just three changes could be enough to do the trick, scientists report in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

And the news comes just as federal officials are getting ready to lift a moratorium on controversial lab experiments that would deliberately create flu viruses with mutations like these.

Public health officials have been worried about this bird flu virus, called H7N9, because it's known to have infected more than 1,500 people — and killed 40 percent of them. So far, unlike other strains that more commonly infect humans, this deadly virus does not spread easily between people.

The fear is that if it mutates in a way that lets it spread more easily, the virus will sweep around the globe and take a heavy toll, because people's immune systems haven't ever been exposed to this type of flu before. Past pandemics caused by novel flu viruses jumping from animals or birds into people have killed millions.

"As scientists we're interested in how the virus works," says Jim Paulson, a biologist at The Scripps Research Institute. "We're trying to just understand the virus so that we can be prepared."

That's why he and his colleagues recently tinkered with a piece of the H7N9 flu — a protein that lets the virus latch onto cells. It's thought to be important for determining which species the virus can infect.

"So it's not the whole virus," says Paulson. "It's just a piece — just a fragment — that we can then study for its properties."

What they studied is how different changes affected the virus' ability to bind to receptors found on the surface of human cells.

It turns out that three small mutations made the fragment bind far more strongly to receptors found on human cells than to receptors from bird cells. Scientists know, from studying strains that led to past pandemics, that this kind of switch appears to be involved in enabling a bird flu virus to become transmissible between people.

"All we've done is to look at one of the properties that we're pretty certain is important," says Paulson, who cautions that additional genetic mutations might be necessary for this virus to become more contagious in humans. "So, just because we've changed the one property doesn't mean that that property alone is sufficient to let the virus transmit."

One way of finding out would be to test the effect of these mutations in the actual H7N9 virus. And he and a colleague did put in a proposal to the National Institutes of Health to modify the virus to explore what changes could make it transmissible among lab animals.

"And then the moratorium came out and so it wasn't reviewed," says Paulson.

That unusual moratorium, announced by the White House in 2014, halted federally funded research that might make flu viruses more dangerous.

It came after more than two years of debate among scientists about whether these experiments are too risky. Critics argue that the information gained isn't worth the possibility that a lab-created mutant flu might escape the lab, either by accident or because someone intentionally used it as a bioweapon. They argue that scientists shouldn't be in the business of taking deadly viruses and making them even worse.

"These are all legitimate concerns, in my view," says Paulson. Because of those concerns, he now wants to test these genetic changes — not in the H7N9 virus itself, but rather in a weakened strain of flu that can move from ferret to ferret, the lab stand-in for people in flu studies.

And it probably won't be long before he can propose such an experiment to the NIH, because the Department of Health and Human Services is almost finished with drafting a new policy that spells out how officials will review this type of flu experiment in the future.

"As soon as that policy is finalized, the moratorium will be lifted and NIH will move forward in concordance with that new policy. Our expectation is it will be very soon," says Carrie Wolinetz, acting chief of staff and associate director for science policy at the NIH. "We want to make sure that there is an appropriate level of review to seriously consider the balance of that benefit/risk equation in a way that allows us move forward responsibly."

One scientist who's been critical of deliberately creating potential pandemic pathogens is David Relman, a biologist at Stanford. If a scientist wanted to test the effect of these recently-identified mutations in a weakened lab strain of flu, he says, "I would be much more accepting of that kind of experiment."

But if researchers wanted to make these genetic changes in the actual H7N9 virus, he says, "I would be very hesitant, were they to want to do that. In fact, I would be reluctant to have them do that."

Relman notes that a policy guidance released in the last days of the Obama administration says work that could create a highly virulent, highly transmissible virus requires special scrutiny. "Now, the part I don't agree with," he says, "is they don't come right out and say, 'Let's not do that."

Other researchers, like Ron Fouchier of Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, who receives NIH funding, have publicly argued for the need to modify H7N9 in the lab to see exactly what this virus might be capable of. They believe such research is essential to truly understand the threat.

"The rest of the world is moving forward with this type of experiment already," says Fouchier, whose genetic experiments with a different bird flu virus sparked a public outcry in 2011.

"And so the U. S. can either join or not join. It's up to them, but the work will continue," he says.

"I'm pretty sure that the U. S. government will start funding this research again," Fouchier says, "because this is clearly important work. In the flu field, this is one of the most important questions to be addressed: How do we identify, among thousands of viruses that cause outbreaks, those viruses that are going to cause the next pandemic?"

He's hoping to learn more about how officials will handle all this when a network of federally funded flu researchers meets next month in Atlanta.

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...I'm proud that I played a small part in lobbying for the moratorium against genetic engineering of flu viruses to make them more pathogenic.  I am a signatory to the Cambridge Working Group statement about the dangers of this research, http://www.cambridgeworkinggroup.org

However, these creepy university researchers are always bellowing for another chance to cook up some new variant so they can claim immortality through their publications, text books and (most importantly) patents.   Fouchier is one of the really bad ones, as is Kawaoka at University of Wisconsin in Madison.  






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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote jacksdad Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 15 2017 at 10:04pm
Even theoretical gain of function work scares me Chuck, because I'm sure curiosity will get the better of a researcher at some point and, legally or otherwise, they'll cook up Captain Trips for real.


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