SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

New computer model predicts infectious avian influenza

A new computer model may be able to tell scientists when certain avian influenza strains could transmit from birds to humans, according to a recent report in the International Journal Data Mining and Bioinformatics.

Chuang Ma, a scientist with the University of Arizona at Tucson, and colleagues at the China-based Wuhan Institute of Virology and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, developed the A2H computer model to predict whether or not a certain strain of bird flu could infect humans. The tool could let health authorities monitor specific avian influenza A virus strains in wild and domestic birds to better predict whether or not a strain was likely to cause a global influenza pandemic.

"A2H might be useful in the early warning of interspecies transmission of AIV, which is beneficial to public health," the team said. "It will be further validated and upgraded when more virus strains become available."

The method analyzes 90 signature positions in the inner protein sequences of different influenza virus strains. After correlating more than 500 different physical and chemical characteristics of the virus, the researchers use data mining techniques to match up certain physiochemical attributes with bird to human transmissibility. The team then tracks the virus back to the presence of mutations in the proteins of emerging strains.

The team said a similar approach could be used in the future for other viruses that emerge from non-human hosts and transmit to humans.