Science 22 June 2012:
Vol. 336 no. 6088 pp. 1521-1521
Introduction to Special Issue


Bruce Alberts | 1 Comments

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Recently,a special issue was launched with a focus on the investigation of the airborne transmission of H5N1 viruses between ferrets(1,2). However,such evidences for aerosol transmission of diseases are already there despite of different virus types. In the future, the research community might need to focus on other more important areas such as airborne virus dynamics,detection,and rapid screening of virus infected population as virus mutation is a matter of time.

Influenza viruses were detected from human exhaled breath in numerous studies. When exhaled, viruses could remain airborne for a prolonged time period,yet its ability to cause further infections depend on many factors such as its infectivity, airborne transport,environmental matrix and host immune system. In addition to the virus vaccine development, researchers can work on other proactive measures,e.g., detection of viruses both in the air and human exhaled breath, to curb the relevant harm resulting from the flu pandemics. Such a detection of airborne influenza viruses not only allows the relevant personnel to initiate a timely evacuation,but also achieves rapid diagnosis of flu for early treatment and isolation. Emerging nanotechnology such as nanotube and nanowire can offer great opportunities in achieving these objectives. When integrated with electronics, surface modified silicon nanowire sensor device has already been shown to be able to selectively detect minute amounts of influenza viruses both in the air and exhaled breath within minutes(3,4). This time span would lend a great hand in the battle against both bioterrorism and flu pandemics.

Yet,challenges remain ahead for their practical applications. For realtime detection of airborne viruses,the development of high volume liquid based aerosol sampling tool is in high demand. On another front,currently available breath collection device appears to be less efficient in collecting exhaled influenza viruses. Another research challenge is the cross reaction of antibodies which to some extent limits the discerning of influenza virus subtypes. Success in solving these problems and commercialization of relevant devices would represent a major leap in the battle against both bioterrorism and influenza epidemics/pandemics.

References 1.S. Herfst et al.,Science 22,336,1534(2012). 2.C.A. Russell et al.,Science 22,336, 1541(2012). 3.F. Shen et al.,Nano Lett. 12,3722(2012). 4.F. Shen et al.,Environ. Sci. Technol. 45,7473(2011).

Submitted on Fri, 07/20/2012 - 00:17