Monday, April 30, 2007

New Bird Flu strains show spread to the West.

A recent paper released from the University of Maryland, indicates an international team of researchers reported the first ever large scale sequencing of western avian flu genomes.

In case you were wondering..... a 'genome' refers to all of a living thing's genetic material. It's the entire set of hereditary instructions for building, running, maintaining and reproducing an organism. The whole shebang. 'Genome sequencing' is figuring out the order of DNA neucleotides which consists of a code of genetic letters. DNA sequencing on a large scale, is mostly done by high-tech machines.

These researchers collected 36 genomes from wild birds (follow the arrows of the map on the right). The study basically confirms the spread of H5N1 from the Far East to Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. It is the virus' capacity to rapidly mutate into a pathogen that may eventually be passed between humans, that concerns health officials about a world wide pandemic.

The interesting thing is that Steven Salzberg, the study's lead author says: "The migratory pathways of wild birds don't correspond with the movement of the genomes that we sequenced." This points to the possibilty of human movement, rather than wild birds as the reason for the quick spread of the H5N1.


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