Scientists at the University of Glasgow have made a significant discovery regarding our body’s defense against bird flu. The research revealed that bird flu strains, which have caused devastating pandemics and claimed millions of lives, have developed mechanisms to overcome a powerful protective barrier. However, the scientists believe that they are close to predicting the flus in birds that pose the greatest risk to humans. In their investigation of spillover events, where humans contract infections from animals, the researchers identified a specific section of our DNA, called BTN3A3, that becomes active in response to infection. Activation of BTN3A3 in the nose, throat, and lungs reduces the ability of bird flu viruses to replicate, effectively blocking them. This discovery opens up new possibilities for monitoring and managing potential pandemics by analyzing the genetic code of circulating bird flu strains.

The researchers’ ultimate goal is to sequence the genetic code of flus present in birds, enabling the identification of dangerous strains and the implementation of targeted measures to control their spread. The recent outbreak of avian flu (H5N1) has highlighted the importance of such measures, as it has affected bird populations on an unprecedented scale. The virus has occasionally infected humans, but not through human-to-human transmission. However, more than half of the virus samples from birds and all human cases this year have exhibited resistance to BTN3A3, raising concerns. While bypassing BTN3A3 is just one factor in the virus’s threat to human health, this discovery, coupled with genetic surveillance, provides valuable insights for assessing future disease risks and informing public health strategies.