March 3, 2008 By Jessica Jones
MIT researchers uncovered a critical difference between the flu viruses that infect birds and humans. This discovery could help scientists monitor the evolution of avian flu strains and develop vaccines against a deadly flu pandemic.
The researchers found that a virus's ability to infect humans depends on whether it can bind to one specific shape of receptor on the surface of human respiratory cells.
In addition to helping researchers develop a better way to track the evolution of avian flu that leads to human adaptation, these findings will aid in developing more effective strategies for seasonal flu, which still is a leading cause of death.
Shown here is a colorized transmission electron micrograph of avian influenza A (H5N1) viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green).
- Anne Trafton, MIT
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