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UTMB scientists collecting swine flu samples for testing

By Laura Isensee — Dallas Morning News, May 5, 2009

WASHINGTON Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston are swinging into action to study the new flu strain that has caused concern in Texas and around the world.

They are collecting samples of the H1N1 virus, or swine flu, from Mexico, Texas and other states, said Dr. Joan Nichols, an infectious-disease expert and associate professor at the Galveston National Laboratory at UTMB. Researchers will run the samples through a powerful machine at the school, called the T-5000. One of just a handful in the U.S., it can quickly map the genotype of the virus. H1N1 is a mix of pig, bird and human genes. "We're going to see little differences here and there," Nichols said.

Identifying how the virus has changed can reveal how easily it transmits and how severely it infects people, Nichols said. They may find answers to the biggest puzzle facing scientists so far: why the virus has been deadlier in Mexico than in other areas. One possible reason they will study, Nichols said, is if the strain was more virulent when it first went from pigs to humans and then changed as it spread from person to person.

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