In the dawn of a new century one pathogen still remains as the paradigm of emerging diseases: The Influenza A virus.
Our mission in the Avian Influenza Virus Program is to determine the molecular basis for interspecies transmission and pathogenesis of avian influenza viruses.
We are proud members of the Center for Research on Influenza Pathogenesis, CRIP. Current funding for our research is provided by NIAID-NIH, and NIFA-USDA.
The molecular basis of interspecies transmission, pathogenesis, and cross-protection of influenza A viruses.
Aquatic birds are the natural reservoir of influenza A viruses. Occasionally, some of these viruses cross to other animal species, in which they can cause severe disease outbreaks that include pandemics. In the 20th century, humans experienced three major pandemics. The most devastating was the 1918 "Spanish flu" that killed between 20 and 40 million people. The emergence of another influenza pandemic is considered imminent. Unfortunately, little is known about the molecular features that allow an influenza A virus to cause pandemic disease, although multiple genes, encoding both the surface and internal proteins of the virus, are thought to be involved. We have recently developed a plasmid-based reverse genetics system for influenza A viruses that allows the complete manipulation of the viral genome. We are currently using this system to map specific amino acid residues involved in interspecies transmission of H9, H2 and H7 influenza viruses, which are believed, along with H5 influenza viruses, to have the greatest potential to become pandemic viruses. Our studies are elucidating the most important factors in the spread and pathogenesis of influenza viruses from the aquatic bird reservoir to land-based birds and mammals.