Researchers at Griffith University Institute for Glycomics, Queensland led by Professor Mark von Itzstein have developed a technique to ‘crack-the-code’ of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus.

The development was published this week in the world’s leading international chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition available here.

It will enable influenza virus specialists and drug researchers to interrogate one of the virus’ key surface proteins without risk of infection.

This approach will enable the rapid identification of avian and other influenza viruses that have attained the capacity to recognize human receptors and therefore acquired the potential for easy human-to-human transmission.

The Griffith team collaborated with an international project partner team at the Hong Kong University-Institut Pasteur led by Professor Malik Peiris who developed a method to insert the deadly bird flu’s H5 protein in a harmless vehicle called a ‘virus-like particle’.

“To better interrogate a virus protein, researchers need to be able to observe and monitor the way it functions when associated with a virus particle,” Professor von Itzstein said.

“It’s similar to the way it would be difficult to work out how a gun functions by only studying a bullet.”

The use of these virus-like particles as a vehicle for the virus protein enables researchers to work without the need for high-containment laboratory procedures mandatory for handling live virus.

PICTURED: Project researchers Dr Thomas Haselhorst and Professor Mark von Itzstein.

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