Medicine research news Return to previous page
Article Released Wed-5th-October-2005 17:21 GMT
Contact: Ruth Institution: Nature Publishing Group
 1918 pandemic flu arose from a bird virus ; Flu strains get most comprehensive ever analysis

The 'Spanish flu' virus that killed about 50 million people in 1918-1919 had elements that were new to humans of the time, making it highly virulent and geneticists have compiled the genetic sequences of more than 200 different flu samples

VOL.437 NO.7060 DATED 06 OCTOBER 2005

Editorial contacts: While the best contacts for stories will always be the
authors themselves, in some cases the Nature editor who handled the paper
will be available for comment if an author is unobtainable. Editors are
contactable via Ruth Francis on +44 20 7843 4562. Feel free to get in touch
with Nature's press contacts in London, Washington and Tokyo (as listed at
the end of this release) with any general editorial inquiry.

Warning: This document, and the Nature papers to which it refers, may
contain information that is price sensitive (as legally defined, for
example, in the UK Criminal Justice Act 1993 Part V) with respect to
publicly quoted companies. Anyone dealing in securities using information
contained in this document or in advanced copies of Nature's content may be
guilty of insider trading under the US Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
The Nature journals press site is at <>

Public health: 1918 pandemic flu arose from a bird virus (pp 889-893)

The 'Spanish flu' virus that killed about 50 million people in 1918-1919 had
elements that were new to humans of the time, making it highly virulent,
according to an analysis of the final three genes to be sequenced from the
pathogen. The 1918 virus also had several of the same mutations found in the
H5N1 bird flu strain currently spreading in the Far East, showing that such
viruses can cause serious infection without first combining with a flu
strain already adapted to humans.
Scientists led by Jeffery Taubenberger have finished the job started in 1995
of piecing together the complete protein-coding sequence of the 1918 virus,
isolated from preserved remains of victims. Researchers had previously
published sequences for five other gene-containing segments of the flu
genome. As Taubenberger's group reports in this week's Nature, the newly
sequenced genes - encoding proteins called polymerases, which are crucial
for viral replication in human cells - bear striking similarities to those
of flu viruses found only in birds.
This is in contrast to the flu viruses that caused human pandemics in 1957
and 1968, both of which probably combined with human-adapted strains before
becoming killers, the authors add. The mutations shared by the 1918 flu and
the current H5N1 strains may help them replicate more efficiently, perhaps
showing why these viruses can cause such virulent disease.
Jeffery Taubenberger (Armed forces Institute of Pathology, Rockville, MD,
E-mail: <>

Please contact via: Chris Kelly (Public Affairs Office, Armed forces
Institute of Pathology)
Tel: +1 202 782 2115; E-mail:

Please note this paper is being released in tandem with a related research
paper in the journal Science. To access the Science paper log onto
EurekAlert!, tp:// or contact AAAS, Tel: +1 202
326 6440, <>

Public health: Flu strains get most comprehensive ever analysis (AOP)
DOI: 10.1038/nature04239

Geneticists have compiled the genetic sequences of more than 200 different
flu samples, in the largest effort yet to uncover the genetic reshuffling
that characterizes this ever-changing virus. The data should shed light on
how viruses are transmitted between different hosts, and how some strains
become more pathogenic than others.
The study, published online this week by Nature, collates the genetic
sequences of 209 strains of influenza A virus, collected in New York State
over several years. As part of the Influenza Genome Sequencing Project, the
researchers, led by Steven Salzberg, have deposited the data in a
public-access archive.
The researchers have already identified some areas of the flu genetic
sequence, which encodes just 11 different proteins,that may be important for
the development of virulence. A particular reshuffling of segments, for
example, seems to have been important in the emergence of the 'Fujian-like'
strain in the winter of 2003-04. The researchers now plan to expand their
investigations to avian flu strains to understand better the threat they
pose to humans.
Steven Salzberg (University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA)
Tel: +1 301 405 9611; E-mail:

For North America and Canada
Katie McGoldrick, Nature Washington
Tel: +1 202 737 2355; E-mail:

For Japan, Korea, China, Singapore and Taiwan
Rinoko Asami, Nature Tokyo
Tel: +81 3 3267 8751; E-mail:

For the UK/Europe/other countries not listed above
Ruth Francis, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4562; E-mail

Katharine Mansell, Nature London
Tel: +44 20 7843 4658; E-mail:

Nature Publishing Group (NPG) is a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd,
dedicated to serving the academic and professional scientific community.
NPG's flagship title, Nature, is the world's most highly-cited weekly
multidisciplinary journal and was first published in 1869. Other
publications include Nature research journals, Nature Reviews, Nature
Clinical Practice, and a range of prestigious academic journals, including
society-owned publications.

NPG is a global company, with headquarters in London and offices in New
York, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, Tokyo, Paris, Munich and
Basingstoke. For more information, please go to

Associated links

Journal information


Keywords associated to this article:
Create Account...