"As these adamantanes have gotten into nonhuman vectors like birds, the positive selection for resistance to avian flu is rising," said Hill. "If Tamiflu is ever used in the manner of adamantanes, we could conceivably see a similar resistance developing through positive selection."
The research team used an interactive "supermap" using Google Earth technology that portrays the individual gene mutations and spread of the avian flu around the globe, said Guralnick of CU-Boulder's ecology and evolutionary biology department. By projecting genetic and geographic information onto the interactive globe, users can "fly" around the planet to see where resistant H5N1 strains are occurring, said Guralnick, also Hill's doctoral adviser.
For the study, the researchers analyzed 676 whole genomes of Influenza A/H5N1 from National Institutes of Health databases of viruses isolated between 1996 and 2007. The team is comparing how often amino acid sequence changes in genes lead to mutations that affect drug resistance in the H5N1 virus and how often such changes evolve into random mutations that don't affect resistance, Hill said.
The next step is to analyze 2008 data, he said.
First detected in China in 1996, the avian flu has spread throughout Asia and to India, Russia, Pakistan, the Middle East, Africa and Europe by various carriers, including poultry and migratory waterfowl, Hill said. While H5N1 is not highly communicable to humans from birds or between humans, experts are concerned future evolution of this subtype or other subtypes, or genetic re-assortment between subtypes, could make an avian influenza strain more contagious with the potential to cause a pandemic.
"Even if H5N1 is not the flu subtype that develops into the next pandemic, this technique can help us understand the properties of flu viruses and we can use these method
|Contact: Andrew Hill|
University of Colorado at Boulder