Federation of American Scientists Case Studies in Dual Use Biological Research Module 5.0: Antibiotic Resistance Case Study
Topic: History of Antibiotics

While the recreation of Spanish flu and the publication of its genome may seem frightening to some, there are also many who are looking at the looming bird flu threat and feel that this is urgent and extremely important work. Basler argues that by recreating the 1918 flu, they may be able to uncover the molecular and genetic reasons of why it was so deadly, especially in young, healthy individuals. Perhaps they can learn what to look for in other mutating influenza virus strains in order to predict the next pandemic and devise ways to stop it. There appear to be many similarities between the effects of both viruses in terms of those affected, the high level of lethality, and the aggressive disease pathology.

Research published in Science in early 2007 showed that changing only one or two amino acids in the HA of Spanish flu severely attenuated virus transmissibility. These amino acids switch the specificity of the HA between human and avian receptors. The phenomenon is specific to the H1 subtype of influenza but a similar specificity switch likely exists in the bird flu H5 subtype. Further work like this could allow identification of transmissible mutations of the bird flu.

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Topic History of Influenza Recreation of 1918 Influenza Virus Implications Discussion References Home