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Tracking a moving target

A family tree of the 2009 pandemic influenza viruses in Japan reveals a high rate of viral evolution

The influenza pandemic that began in Mexico in April 2009 rapidly spread throughout the world and arrived in Japan one month later. Now, a research team led by Toshihisa Ishikawa at the RIKEN Omics Science Center in Yokohama has revealed what a portion of the pandemic influenza virus looked like when it emerged in Japan, and how it has changed over time1. The findings will help to guide influenza vaccine development and will aid in preparations for future influenza pandemic outbreaks.

The researchers collected swab samples from the respiratory system of 253 individual flu sufferers in Osaka, Tokyo and Chiba, and sequenced the influenza genes encoding the proteins hemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA). Although these genes represent only 10% of the influenza viral genome, they demonstrate more variability than other influenza genes, Ishikawa explains, so are likely to mediate any emerging changes in flu severity or antiviral drug resistance.

The sequencing showed that the pandemic influenza samples from the individuals in Japan fell into two groups: those that were collected at the time of the initial outbreak in May 2009, and those that were collected a few months later, during the most rapid spread of the virus throughout the country from October 2009 to January 2010.
 
 

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