In just two weeks from the time the first patient virus samples were
made available, Singapore scientists report an evolutionary analysis of
a critical protein produced by the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus strain.
In the Biology Direct journal’s May 20th issue, Sebastian
Maurer-Stroh, Ph.D., and his team of scientists at the Bioinformatics
Institute (BII), one of the research institutes at Singapore’s
Biopolis, also demonstrated the use of a computational 3-dimensional
(3D) structural model of the protein, neuraminidase.
With the 3D model, Dr. Maurer-Stroh and his team were able to map
the regions of the protein that have mutated and determine whether
drugs and vaccines that target specific areas of the protein were
effective. Among their findings:
a. neuraminidase structure of the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus has
undergone extensive surface mutations compared to closely related
strains such as the H5N1 avian flu virus or other H1N1 strains
including the 1918 Spanish flu;
b. neuraminidase of the 2009 H1N1 influenza A virus strain is more
similar to the H5N1 avian flu than to the historic 1918 H1N1 strain
c. current mutations of the virus have rendered previous flu vaccinations directed against neuraminidase less effective; and
d. commercial drugs, namely Tamiflu® and Relenza®, are still effective in treating the current H1N1 virus.
With the Biology Direct journal paper, the Singapore
scientists have become the first to demonstrate how bioinformatics and
computational biology can contribute towards managing the H1N1
influenza A virus.
"BII’s H1N1 virus sequence study marks a significant milestone in
the use of computational biology methods in understanding how the
mutations of the fast evolving influenza virus affect immunogenic
properties or drug response," said BII Director Frank Eisenhaber, Ph.D.
"This information helps to develop a strategy for fighting the H1N1
virus and for organising an effective treatment for patients."
Other technologies to tackle the 2009 H1N1 Influenza A virus have
been developed by scientists at Biopolis research institutes sponsored
by Singapore’s A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research).
- a chip that is able to quickly sequence or decode the
genes in the flu virus and distinguish between the H1N1, seasonal, and
mutated flu strains, at the Genome Institute of Singapore (GIS).
microkit for the detection and identification of the flu virus strain
within 2 hours, at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology
- a molecular diagnostic assay to distinguish
between the H1N1 and seasonal flu strains, at the Institute of
Molecular and Cell Biology (IMCB).
BII’s interactive 3D model is available at the following link: http://mendel.bii.a-star.edu.sg/SEQUENCES/H1N1/
Influenza A virus strains are categorized according to two proteins
found on the surface of the virus: haemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase
(N). All influenza A viruses contain haemagglutinin and neuraminidase.
The structures of these proteins differ from strain to strain eg, swine
flu belongs to the H1N1 type, avian flu to H5N1 and the currently
dominant seasonal flu belongs to the H3N2 type.