An assistant professor in systems biology at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine has combined computers and biology to track animal flu viruses.
During graduate studies in China, Henry Wan, DVM, MS, Ph.D., became the first scientist to isolate the highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza virus, according to MSU. Shortly after, highly pathogenic H5N1 outbreaks occurred in poultry in Asia, Europe and Africa.
More than 440 confirmed human cases across 15 countries were caused by the virus. About 60 percent of them were fatal.
“My research centers on influenza A viruses," Dr. Wan said. "Where they come from, why they change and how they spread.”
He developed computer programs that provide information on each one of the more than 20,000 viruses’ gene segments, according to MSU. The program displays each gene segment and a map showing the distances between the segments.
The information is used to determine how the segments relate to each other and group to form different influenza viruses, which are always changing, Wan said.
“The program aims to seek a better understanding of why they mutate and how they spread," he said. "Knowing this helps us more accurately predict when new viruses will arise.”
Wan and his research colleagues also want to find the environmental factors that affect the spread of viruses.
His long-term goal is to use research on influenza viruses for the development and production of vaccines.