The following is an excerpt.
The new H7N9 avian influenza strain that surfaced in China recently is now making its way around the world—not in humans, as far as anyone knows, but in carefully labeled, small packages sent from country to country and from lab to lab. Researchers at many institutes are still awaiting their own sample, eager to develop diagnostics and vaccines, gauge the virus’s potential to sicken animals and spread between them, and better understand its molecular makeup.
Even without the real virus in hand, researchers have been able to experiment with a synthetic look-alike. Two days before he got the H7N9 sample, Webby had received a package in the mail from a company that produces genes on demand; they contained the hemagglutinin and neuraminidase genes, synthesized using the H7N9 sequences made available online by Chinese scientists. Stitching these genes into a standard lab strain called PR8 gives researchers an approximation of the actual virus and allows preliminary experiments, for instance to test if existing antibodies bind to the virus. Fouchier’s lab ordered the same two genes from what he calls a “phone and clone company.” But for pathogenesis and transmission studies, he says, “you really need the full virus.”
View the original article here: Chinese H7N9 Virus Making Its Way to Labs Around the World