Investigators at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital have completed the first large-scale study of bird flu virus genomes, thereby doubling the amount of genetic information available on the genes and proteins of these viruses. The results of the project could lead to major insights into the bird flu virus known as H5N1, the researchers said. H5N1 is the bird flu virus currently infecting humans in Asia and Eastern Europe, and flu experts fear it could mutate in a way that would allow it to cause a worldwide pandemic in humans.
"These studies provide the first fundamental insight into the evolution of influenza viruses in nature--the source of all influenza viruses that affect humans, domestic animals and birds," said Robert G. Webster, Ph.D., a member of the Infectious Diseases department and holder of the Rose Marie Thomas Chair at St. Jude. "This information is a true gold mine, and we are inviting all of the miners to help us unlock the secrets of influenza."
Webster is an internationally renowned expert on bird flu viruses and a co-author of the report that appears in the January 27 issue of Science.
St. Jude was uniquely positioned to conduct these studies because it houses Webster's large collection of bird flu viruses collected over several decades. The hospital is also home to St. Jude's Hartwell Center for Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, which provided the necessary expertise and biotechnology resources; and its supercomputer has the horsepower needed to conduct these studies.
"Despite the major threat to human health posed by these viruses, there was very little information available on the entire genomes of bird flu viruses," said Clayton Naeve, Ph.D., director of St. Jude's Hartwell Center. "The St. Jude Influenza Virus Geno
Contact: Bonnie Kourvelas
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital