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Evolution of swine flu mapped by scientists

12 June 2009

Funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has played an important role in enabling the rapid analysis of genetic data from the ongoing Influenza H1N1 outbreak attributed to Swine flu.

The analysis, published online (11 June) in the journal Nature, found that transmission to humans occurred several months before recognition of the existing outbreak and suggests that there is a need for systematic surveillance of influenza in pigs.

Using evolutionary analysis, scientists from the Universities of Arizona, Edinburgh, Hong Kong and Oxford, looked at the timescale of the origins and early development of the virus responsible for the current swine flu outbreak.

Dr Samantha Lycett, from the University of Edinburgh, who worked on the project and who is carrying out research into Avian influenza, funded by BBSRC, explained: "From my ongoing research into Avian influenza, I already had analysis programs set up to prepare and select downloaded virus sequences for further analysis, so was able to rapidly generate a good data set covering about 800 complete genome sequences leading up to current H1N1 outbreak."

Commenting on the research, Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive said: "The ability to respond quickly and accurately in crisis situations is crucial. This research illustrates how ongoing basic bioscience research provides transferable techniques, knowledge and skills and places UK scientists at the forefront of tackling global challenges. This is a particularly nice example of the importance of the methods of genomics and bioinformatics in the solution of complex problems of biology with immediate social applications."

A full copy of ‘Origins and evolutionary genomics of the 2009 swine-origin H1N1 influenza A epidemic’ can be downloaded from the Nature website (see external links).

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