Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Evolution of a Virus

-C. Paula de los Angeles

Science reporter specializing in plagues and pestilences , Donald G. McNeil Jr., speculates on the possibility of a virus, like swine flu, evolving into something more lethal (so far, there have been only 139 confirmed deaths worldwide). Citing numerous scientists, McNeil uses Darwinian logic and rhetoric to argue that there are no evolutionary or selective pressures for the current swine flu to evolve into anything else, despite flu viruses being highly mutable in general .

It's ability to invade human noses and spread through merely coughing is "near-perfect", according to Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, director of the Center for Infection and Immunology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Structurally, flu viruses are merely eight short strands of RNA that code for 11 proteins. One of most compelling reasons for the current swine flu virus to stay as it is and not develop into a more vicious one is its lack of essential genes, the ones that code for proteins PB1-F2 and NS-1, thought to be involved in lethality.

However, there is a potential of a more vicious swine flu in the possible development of resistance to the antiviral drug Tamiflu, which is currently used to treat it.

Hopefully, the swine flu stays as it is, but perhaps only time will tell...

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