Understanding Pandemic Flu

Understanding Pandemic Flu

Influenza A viruses are responsible for both seasonal outbreaks of respiratory disease and occasional pandemics. Their genome is made of eight RNA segments. If two different virus strains of infect the same cell, they can “shuffle” their segments instead of packaging just their own, and generate a new strain. This can result in the generation of a pandemic, since people may lack the immunity necessary to defeat the new virus. This happened in 1957 and 1968, when pandemic viruses killed millions worldwide. While we can detect this genomic “shuffling”, little is known about how they occur. Therefore, predicting them is still a challenge.

Research led by David Bauer in Ervin Fodor’s group addressed the question of the structure of the viral RNA genome. Collaborating with groups in Australia (Lorena Brown) and in the US (Alain Laederach), they employed high-throughput analysis techniques to reveal specific interactions that control packaging of RNA segments. Rarely, these interactions facilitate inter-strain “shuffling”. This work sheds light on influenza virus biology and is a major step in our understanding of influenza pandemic generation.

Shaked Ashkanazi

Dadonaite B, Gilbertson B, Knight ML, Trifkovic S, Rockman S, Laederach A, Brown LE, Fodor E, Bauer DLV.

Nature Microbiology (2019).