Equine influenza has evolved into a much more serious version of itself...and it isn't restricted to the horse world anymore.
Researchers from the U.S. and Great Britain recently infected pieces of dog trachea cultured to emulate the host's physiology ("explants") with canine influenza, two versions of equine influenza (one from 2003 and one from 1963), and human influenza in order to compare virus growth rates and the extent of the damage each caused.
What the researchers found was that the canine influenza and the 2003 equine influenza replicated at similar rates, and also caused similar sorts of tissue damage. However, the 1963 equine influenza samples had a much weaker effect. They not only replicated poorly, they also caused much less tissue damage than the 2003 version did.
The scientists also wanted to find out if genes from canine and human influenza viruses were compatible. So, they transfected cells with DNA that held genes from both canine and human influenzas to see what would happen.
According to Pablo Murcia of the University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research:
"We showed that the genes are indeed compatible, and we also showed that chimeric viruses carrying human and canine influenza genes can infect the dog tracheas."
It's an ominous finding, as it presents the possibility that influenzas have untold potential to combine themselves and generate a whole collection of new influenza viruses.
Murcia says that the research suggests that chimeric viruses (viruses containing the DNA from multiple microorganisms) could be a naturally occurring phenomena, and that dogs would be easy targets. Moreover, dogs could act as Petri dishes in which never-before-seen viruses could develop.
ScienceDaily reports that current research examining how, if at all, human lungs are vulnerable to infection by these chimeric viruses is now underway.