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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

US : After four mutations, new virus attacks

Article via Futurity, excerpt :

" Scientists have shown for the first time how a new virus evolves, clarifying how easy it is for diseases to quickly gain dangerous mutations.

Published in the journal Science, the research shows how the virus Lambda evolved to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took four mutations to accomplish. The virus, which isn’t dangerous to humans, infects bacteria, in particular E. coli.

“We were surprised at first to see Lambda evolve this new function, this ability to attack and enter the cell through a new receptor—and it happened so fast,” says graduate student Justin Meyer, who co-authored the paper with Richard Lenski, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at Michigan State University.

“But when we re-ran the evolution experiment, we saw the same thing happen over and over.”

The paper follows recent news that scientists in the United States and the Netherlands produced a deadly version of bird flu. Even though bird flu is a mere five mutations away from becoming transmissible between humans, it’s highly unlikely the virus could naturally obtain all the beneficial mutations all at once. But if conditions are favorable, it might evolve sequentially, gaining benefits one-by-one."

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