Scientific Study Yields Mutant Airborne Bird Flu

The H5N1 bird flu virus could change into a form able to spread rapidly between humans, scientists have warned. Researchers have identified five genetic changes that could allow the virus to start a deadly pandemic.

Writing in the journal Science, they say it would be theoretically possible for these changes to occur in nature. A US agency has tried unsuccessfully to ban publication of parts of the research fearing it could be used by terrorists to create a bioweapon. According to Prof Ron Fouchier from the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, who led the research, publication of the work in full will give the wider scientific community the best possible chance to combat future flu pandemics.


The H5N1 virus has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of birds and has led to hundreds of millions more being slaughtered to stop its spread. The virus is also deadly to humans but can only be transmitted by close contact with infected birds. It is for this reason that relatively few people have died of bird flu. Latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures indicate 332 people have died of the illness since 2003.

A group led by Prof Fouchier wanted to find out which genetic changes were required to enable the H5N1 virus to mutate into a form that could be transmitted from person to person through the air. They confirmed their theory was correct by genetically engineering those changes into the H5N1 virus which they found could then be spread between ferrets through coughing and sneezing.

It is the first time it has been shown that it is possible for bird flu to become airborne, but the research team was unable to determine precisely how likely this was to happen. Researchers want to be able to calculate the risk of such a virus emerging more precisely in order to help public health officials in their contingency planning.

Should scientists publicize the full information of this study, or should they redact important details to prevent misuse by terrorists?

Source: BBC News

Image: Scientific American

Study: Too Much Sugar Makes You Dumb

Eating too much sugar can eat away at your brainpower, according to US scientists who published a study Tuesday showing how a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup sapped lab rats’ memories.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup — a common ingredient in processed foods – as drinking water for six weeks. One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the other group was not.

“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. ”Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”


A closer look at the rat brains revealed that those who were not fed DHA supplements had also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function. In other words, eating too much fructose could interfere with insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar, which is necessary for processing thoughts and emotions. High-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in soda, condiments, applesauce, baby food and other processed snacks.

While the study did not say what the equivalent might be for a human to consume as much high-fructose corn syrup as the rats did, researchers said it provides some evidence that metabolic syndrome can affect the mind as well as the body. The study appeared in the Journal of Physiology.

Is your daily sugar consumption healthy? Share your eating habits with us!

Source: Yahoo News

Image: Mother Nature Work