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Looming H5N1 Pandemic Looms Larger

Recombinomics Commentary

August 27, 2005

The detection of bird flu in a dead seagull in northern Finland provides additional evidence for a worldwide spread of H5N1, setting the stage for a major pandmeic.  Although H5N1 wild bird flu has yet to be confirmed, the official statement that the bird flu is not H5N1 has been the common initial official comment on H5N1 when it is reported for the first time.  At Qinghai Lake the H5N1 was initial said to not be bird flu.  In Russia and Kazahkstan, H5N1 was said to be H5N2.  In Mongolia, after H5N1 had been confirmed at Qinghai Lake, Chany Lake and Kazakhstan, the H5 result was still interpreted as an indication that H5N1 was not H5N1.  Thus, the statement that H5N1 was possible but not likely, was a clear statement that the bird flu was almost certainly H5N1.  Not mentioned in most of the media reports was the fact that indeed, 50 dead gulls had been found in Oulo.

H5N1 in northern Finland is not a surprise,  Birds from northern Siberia migrate to warmer locations in Europe. and these bird fly over Finland.  This is right time of migration from northern Siberia and infections in Russia strongly suggest the birds in northern Siberia are H5N1 positive.

Birds in northern Siberia also migrate to Alaska, and birds from Alaska spread out across North and South America.  Thus, H5N1 in northern Siberia can widely disperse H5N1.  H5N1 can replicate easily in a wide variety of tissues and has gained significant evolutionary advantage.  Consequently, it is being established in a number of regions, and this increased gene pool will increase the chance of recombination and acquisition of the mammalian receptor binding domain,

The receptor binding domain can be acquired from mammalian sub-strains, but can also be collect from the mammalian sequences in birds.  Thus, an expanded host range offers many unique opportunities for recombination. 

As H5N1 becomes endemic to more areas, its gene pool enlarges, facilitating productive recombinations.  The prior acquisitions of mammalian polymorphims increase the frequency of more recombinations..

Recombinations in birds would be cause for concern, because an efficient transmitted H5N1 could spread among birds, and then infected many people in many locations.  These simultaneous outbreaks would limit an effective containment strategy, that depends on treatment within one to two weeks of symptoms

Thus, H5N1 is poised to go global and increase its geographical reach. 

Establishment in local birds would create an endemic reservoir, which could be lethal for years to come. 


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