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H1N1 Influenza Adopted Novel Strategy to Move from Birds to Humans

The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus used a new strategy to cross from birds into humans, a warning that it has more than one trick up its sleeve to jump the species barrier and become virulent.

In a report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of California, Berkeley, researchers show that the H1N1, or swine flu, virus adopted a new mutation in one of its genes distinct from the mutations found in previous flu viruses, including those responsible for the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918, the "Asian" flu pandemic in 1957 and the "Hong Kong" pandemic of 1968.

Previous influenza strains that crossed from birds into people had a specific point mutation in the bird virus's polymerase gene that allowed the protein to operate efficiently inside humans as well. The polymerase transcribes the virus's RNA, allowing the host to express viral genes, and also copies the viral genome, needed to make new viruses.

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