Melbourne, Feb 3 : An international team of researchers has moved one step closer to cracking the deadly bird flu code, following the development of a safe technique to study the virus by Australian scientists.
Mark von Itzstein, a professor at Griffith University, says that the development will enable flu and drug specialists to study key surface proteins of the virus without fear of infection.
The risk is minimised through a method developed to insert the deadly bird flu's H5 protein into a harmless vehicle called a 'virus-like particle', he adds.
According to Itzstein, the reduced risk of spreading the infection would allow the virus to be studied in more laboratories around the world.
"Importing, transporting and studying a highly-contagious live virus has always held some level of inherent risk for research staff, the wider community and agricultural economy," News.com.au quoted Itzstein, as saying.
The researcher, who worked with collaborators from the Institute for Glycomics on the Gold Coast and Hong Kong University's Institut Pasteur, believes that their observations may some day help scientists "crack the code" of the deadly H5N1 avian influenza virus.
"To better interrogate a virus protein, researchers need to be able to observe and monitor the way it functions when associated with a virus particle," he said.
"It's similar to the way it would be difficult to work out how a gun functions by only studying a bullet," he added.
Itzstein said the H5N1 virus had evolved to the stage where it could be transmitted from birds to humans, with evidence mounting that limited human-to-human transmission could also occur.
The study is published in the journal Angewandte Chemie International Edition.