Somehow I missed this story in the June issue of Science:
…Jeffery Taubenberger of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) in Washington, D.C., said that RNA found in tissue samples from pneumonia patients who died in 1915 shows that the virus’s hemagglutinin–an all-important coat protein–is a subtype called H3. If confirmed, “that’s tremendously exciting,” says molecular biologist Ian Wilson of the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, California. Knowing the virus’s entire genetic makeup–which Taubenberger believes is possible–would shed fresh light on where the 1918 killer flu may have originated, Wilson says.
It’s now known for certain that the 1918 “Spanish” influenza virus was serotype H1N1, due to work carried out by Taubenberger and his group sequencing and piecing together portions of the virus. (Serological studies carried out after the identification of the influenza virus had already suggested that, but the actual sequence of the virus then confirmed it). What wasn’t known previously was what serotype of virus it had replaced; in other words, what was circulating prior to 1918. Again, serological evidence provided some clues, but the actual viral sequences would provide much more information than can be gleaned by antibody studies alone. Like Taubenberger’s previous work reconstructing the 1918 virus from archived tissue specimens, this new research is using archived patient samples from 1915 at the University of London, that apparently harbor a H3 serotype virus (the neuraminidase type apparently hasn’t yet been elucidated).
The team plans to spend the next several years sequencing the entire viral genome. If viruses from before 1918 are completely different than the pandemic virus, that would support Taubenberger’s contested theory that the pandemic virus jumped directly from an avian host into the human population, says virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “This could be the clincher,” says Oxford.