US: To track the H1N1 virus, Ohio State University researcher Daniel Janies used a supercomputer, Google Earth and a network of scientists who share genetic data. His programme shows how the virus mutated, spread and sickened people around the world.
Janies created similar maps that tracked the evolution of the SARS virus. His map showed how standard influenza changed over time to become resistant to a class of flu-fighting drugs that were overused treating livestock in China.
The virus emerged in Mexico, but Janies traced its genetic ancestry and linked it to viruses found in pigs, birds and people as far back as 1956.
His programme could display a virus that held a segment of genetic code of the H1N1 virus. At the time, researchers were more interested in how the virus was changing. The fear was that any mutation would render treatments, such as Tamiflu, useless.
Viruses are constantly evolving, capable of changing from host to host and from animal to human. When a flu virus invades a host cell, it reproduces or replicates itself several times over. Most of the new viruses are exact copies, but the replication process also produces “mistakes” in the genetic code.
The mistakes create new flu viruses that can be either weaker or stronger than the original. They also can help the virus make the jump from animal to human.
Janies used information from scientists who record the genetic fingerprints of H1N1 viruses from different patients and ran them through the supercomputer. A programme he helped design looks for mutations.
Each mutation, its location and date of discovery was added to Janies’ map. The map also links back to the mutated virus’ most likely genetic parents.
Janies said a growing network of scientists who share virus data makes the mapping possible. One can see the map at supramap.osu.edu/sm/supramap/home.
Source: The Columbus Dispatch