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Mutation makes H5N1 flu lose its grip

Laboratory-added genetic change makes avian influenza unable to bind to bird cells

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1:27pm, April 24, 2013

A mutation that helped make a laboratory version of the H5N1 bird flu transmissible through the air nearly obliterates the ability of the virus to latch onto avian cells. At the same time, the mutation slightly boosts the virus’s ability to infect human cells, an international team of researchers reports April 24 in Nature.

The finding follows up on controversial research published last year that transformed the H5N1 virus, a microbe usually restricted to birds, into one that could spread between ferrets through the air (SN: 6/2/12; p. 20; SN: 7/14/12, p. 8). Some scientists and policymakers questioned whether such research should be done at all. Others argued that the work could help spot viruses poised to become pandemic strains and might point to vaccine targets.

The new study shows that a mutation can have different effects in different flu strains, something that might not have been d

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