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'key' to bird flu discovered
01-07-2008, 09:44 PM,
'key' to bird flu discovered

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say they've discovered a critical difference between flu viruses that infect birds and humans.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists said it appears 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.

"The discovery could aid in the development of vaccines against a deadly flu pandemic," MIT said Friday in a release.

"Now that we know what to look for, this could help us not only monitor the bird flu virus, but it can aid in the development of potentially improved therapeutic interventions for both avian and seasonal flu," senior author Ram Sasisekharan said in a statement.

The findings were published in the journal Nature.

Until now, scientists had believed that a genetic switch that allows the virus to bind to alpha 2-6 receptors instead of alpha 2-3 receptors is responsible for avian viruses' ability to jump to humans. The new study reveals that, more specifically, it is the ability of a flu virus to bind to a certain shape, or topology, of specific alpha 2-6 glycan receptor that determines whether it will infect humans.

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