Infection researchers in ‘barcode’ breakthrough

SCIENTISTS in Yorkshire are developing a technique which “barcodes” viral infections to rapidly test new outbreaks for potentially lethal mutations.

Experts from Leeds University are working with the Health Protection Agency to build a bank of signatures to help to identify the severity of virus infections from cell changes.

Work underway has led to the barcoding of different strains of flu and a virus linked with the onset of asthma in young children.

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Researcher John Hiscox, of the university’s faculty of biological sciences, said: “Diseases such as flu infect and hijack our cells, turning them into virus producing factories.

“The infection causes the balance of proteins in a cell to change – some proteins are overproduced and others suppressed. Which proteins are affected and by how much varies depending on the type of virus, allowing us to identify a unique barcode of disease for each.”

Research, published today in the journal Proteomics, investigates changes in lung cells infected with swine flu from the 2009 outbreak compared with seasonal flu.

The team identified proteins most affected by viral infection and used these as molecular signatures to provide the barcode of the disease.

Fellow researcher John Barr said: “Using this test might have been a way to identify how lethal the 2009 swine flu pandemic was going to be, lessening worldwide panic.