Monday, May 11, 2009

Human Flu Virus: 10 Genes, Furiously Evolving

This is one of those articles where every few sentences I was saying, "How about that."

10 Genes, Furiously Evolving, New York Times, May 4, 2009
"Viruses all have one thing in common, they all reproduce by disintegrating and then reforming.

A human flu virus, for example, latches onto a cell in the lining of the nose or throat. It manipulates a receptor on the cell so that the cell engulfs it, whereupon the virus’s genes are released from its protein shell. The host cell begins making genes and proteins that spontaneously assemble into new viruses. “No other entity out there is able to do that."

Reassortment played a big role in the emergence of the current swine flu...

It is possible that the special biology of pigs helped foster all this mixing. Bird flu and human flu viruses can slip into pig cells, each using different receptors to gain access. “We call the pig a mixing vessel because it can replicate both avian and mammalian influenza virus at the same time,” said Juergen Richt of Kansas State University. “The mixing of these genes can happen much easier in the pig than in any other species.”

The sheer number of viruses on Earth is beyond our ability to imagine...

In a small drop of water there are a billion viruses. ... Virologists have estimated that there are a million trillion trillion viruses in the world’s oceans."
So, 6 billion of us against a million, trillion, trillion of them. They who can "disintegrate and reform," making reality out of a feat humans can only visualize from Star Trek reruns. I say we extend an olive branch, pronto.
Photo by James Erin de Jauregui via UCLA Magazine.


Ronald said...

Resistance is futile.

caulfieldkid said...

So basically, viruses are constantly running a "break password" program on us. Eventually they'll "figure out" a/the right combination and it'll get ugly. The public health organizations are just trying to catch especially deadly viruses and contain them. Is that about right (minus all the poor analogies)?

Man, nature really is "red in tooth and claw."

- shaun

Bix said...

It's amazing they've allowed us to grow to 6 billion. Maybe they need us for food, or sustenance, or something.

Anonymous said...

I agree. Extend an olive branch - Purell, & masks would offer little protection in the end should these trillions upon trillions of viruses regroup and go on an organized attack. On the other hand, what is the actual likelihood of this happening? Common sense not panic (easier said than to believe) is the answer, and a H1N1 vaccine, no thanks, a flu shot is sufficient for me, says me as I sneezed. Really I just did.