We’re always in favor of stopping a massive viral pandemic, or at least knowing more about what might make one happen. So we read a recent PLOS Pathogens paper with interest. The general theme is similar to this February 2019 paper from Anice Lowen’s lab in PNAS. To paraphrase Bill Murray in Ghostbusters: birds and humans living together, mass hysteria!
Here, Emory researchers looked at the M segment of influenza virus, which appears to determine host restriction, or the ability of viruses that infect bird cells to migrate to mammals. The M segment, was important for emergence of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic flu.
One of eight influenza gene segments, the M segment encodes a protein that can interfere with cellular functions (autophagic vesicles) on which the virus relies. The new data reveal that reductions in M2 protein occurred in connection with past important adaptation events, such as when a Eurasian avian-like swine virus emerged from birds in the 1970s.
“This mechanism constitutes a novel paradigm in RNA virus host adaptation, and reveals a new species barrier for IAV, which may be highly relevant for the emergence of avian IAVs into humans,” the authors conclude. Read more
Three Emory scientists have signed a letter published last week in Nature and Science outlining proposed research on the H7N9 avian influenza virus.Â A strain of H7N9 transmitted from poultry to humans was responsible for 43 deaths in China earlier this year, but so far, evidence shows that the virus does not transmit easily from human to human.
The letter advocates additional research including â€œgain-of-functionâ€ experiments: identifying what changes to naturally occurring viral strains would make them more transmissible, deadly, or drug-resistant in mammals.
The group of 23 flu researchers, led by Ron Fouchier at http://www.agfluide.com Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and Yoshihiro Kawaoka at the University of Wisconsin, say these types of experiments are needed to help public health authorities prepare for and respond to potential future outbreaks.
The letter signers from Emory are: Walter Orenstein, MD, professor of medicine and principal investigator for the Emory-University of Georgia Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center (IPIRC), Richard Compans, PhD, professor of microbiology and immunology and scientific director of IPIRC, and John Steel, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. Read more
Emory influenza researchers Richard Compans, Anice Lowen and John Steel are co-signers of a statement announcing the end of a self-imposed moratorium on H5N1 avian flu research.
Last year, an international group of researchers called for the moratorium after public concern over studies of H5N1 transmissibility in ferrets, a model for spread of infection between humans. The group of researchers has now recommended ending the moratorium, citing safeguards and safety review procedures put in place by the National Institutes of Health and authorities in other countries. From the letter published today in Science and Nature:
In January 2012, influenza virus researchers from around the world announced a voluntary pause of 60 days on any research involving highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 viruses leading to the generation of viruses that are more transmissible in mammals. We declared a pause to this important research to provide time to explain the public-health benefits cheap oakley of this work, to describe the measures in place to minimize possible risks, and to enable organizations and governments around the world to review their policies (for example on biosafety, biosecurity, oversight, and communication) regarding these experiments.
…Thus, acknowledging that the aims of the voluntary moratorium have been met in some countries and are close to being met in others, we declare an end to the voluntary moratorium on avian flu transmission studies.
Dan Vergano has a more extensive story in USA Today.
Compans is professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine and scientific director of Emory’s Influenza Pathogenesis and Immunology Research Center. Lowen and Steel are assistant professors of microbiology and immunology at Emory and IPIRC investigators.