Single mutation could make H1N1 much more deadly

Scientists have discovered that a single mutation in the H1N1 swine flu virus could make the illness far more virulent.

Since H1N1 surfaced in Mexico in 2009, scientists have feared that it could follow the path of the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million people, according to

The 1918 virus actually emerged a year earlier in 1917, but it was a mutation that allowed it to wreck havoc beginning in 1918.

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found that H1N1, like the original 1918 virus, has a protein structure that prevents it from binding efficiently to cells in the human respiratory tract, according to

In a study published in the journal PLos ONE , the MIT scientists describe how they were able to create a more virulent version of H1N1 with a single mutation that increased its binding strength. Their new version was shown to spread rapidly in an animal model.

By identifying the potentially dangerous mutation, the researchers hope that the World Health Organization would be able to follow any strain that develops it and respond quickly.

"If you look at the history, it takes a very small change to these viruses to have a dramatic effect," Ram Sasisekharan, the senior author of the new paper, said, according to