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Research Update

Karel Schat

At CSIRO: Studying a Specific Change in One Gene of the Avian Flu Virus

Karel Schat

Karel Schat

Karel A. Schat, Microbiology and Immunology, went to Australia in April 2006 to study a genetic mutation in the avian flu virus at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL), which is part of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). After two three-month stints (April–June and October–December 2006), Schat hopes that his group is on the right track to finding answers to some puzzling questions about the bird flu.

When researchers isolated the virus in chickens that had infected humans in Asia, they found that its RNA, which is involved in copying the virus’s genes, differed in an amino acid in the PB2 gene. In chickens this was glutamic acid, but when the virus was isolated in humans, this amino acid was changed to lysine in about half the cases.

Will this change shift the pathogenicity of the virus? Does the mutation that leads to the presence of lysine have an effect on ducks and chickens? Does the virus with lysine change again once it is reintroduced to birds? Can birds become vectors of the virus with lysine, which might then infect mammals, including humans?

The Research at CSIRO in Australia

In Australia I studied a very specific change in the polymerase PB2 gene of the H5N1 avian influenza virus, which is often referred to as bird flu. The avian influenza virus is an RNA virus, and the polymerase complex, which includes PB2, makes new RNA needed for the production of the new virus. We are interested in the mutation of the PB2 gene at amino acid 627, which changed from glutamic acid in the chicken to lysine in humans.


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