Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ninety years after killer virus roamed, scientists try to coax out its secrets

TORONTO — In the fall of 1918, a seemingly simple influenza virus morphs into a mass murderer. Ninety years later, scientists are still flummoxed by why and how that happened.

But thanks to some impressive microbiological sleuthing - and the preservative powers of paraffin and permafrost - researchers are now studying the virus that caused the worst known infectious disease outbreak in history.

It's been three years since Dr. Terry Tumpey, a virologist working with the U.S. Centres for Disease Control, slipped eight individually reconstructed gene segments into a growth medium to see if they would knit together and essentially resurrect the killer of old.

Tumpey started that process on a Friday in the summer of 2005. By the Monday, he could see that scientific history had been made.

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