FLU VIRUS SHOWS TWIST IN TAIL

– One of the potential elements of the Perfect Storm is a pandemic like the one that swept the world in 1917. The current Avian Flu Virus, H5N1, could, with just another mutation, learn to jump from human to human instead of from bird to bird and ignite such a calamity. In the face of this possibility, the news in this article is good, indeed. They may have found a way to defang flu viruses in general.

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PARIS (AFP)—Biochemists in the United States believe they may have found the Achilles heel of the H5N1 virus—and not just of the bird flu pathogen but of a wide range of other influenza strains.

The potential target is a long, flexible protein tail which is essential for virus replication, they report on Thursday in Nature, the weekly British science journal.

The so-called nucleoprotein (NP) plays its role after a virus has hijacked a host cell and subverted it into a virus-making factory.

The NPs come together in small rings, stacking up one atop the other to form a column. The virus’ RNA genome twists around this column before being shipped out of the cell in copies that go on to infect other cells.

The team, led by Yizhi Jane Tao of Rice University in Houston, Texas, believe the weak point is the tail’s loop.

Just a single mutation in the amino acids comprising the loop is enough to prevent the NPs from forming the building blocks.

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