The novel H7N9 subtype avian influenza virus (AIV) has caused hundreds of human deaths in China since its emergence in 2013. The zoonotic virus might be hatched by pigeons, as suggested by an article recently published by Newpubli.
A group of Chinese researchers conducted large-scale surveillance of AIVs in China which revealed pigeons are populous in China and are frequently close to other birds, and the H7N9 AIVs were relatively prevalent in pigeons in 2013. They also conducted in-depth phylogenetic analyses of AIVs which suggested that one genotype of H9N2 subtype AIVs circulating in pigeons and other birds could donate six internal genes to the H7N9 AIVs. They further identified five mutations in the viral HA gene specific to the H7N9 AIVs, and one of them which conferred increased binding to human-like receptors, was probably fixed through positive selection. Pigeons are the only known birds which can provide the pressure for selecting the specific mutation as pigeons, distinct from other birds, uniquely carry abundant human-like and few avian-like receptors in their respiratory tracts.
With these data, they proposed a novel hypothesis that the H7N9 AIVs possibly originated in pigeons through natural selection. However, they also stated in the article that more evidence is needed to support or disprove this hypothesis.
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