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The biosensor researchers Erhard van der Vries from Royal GD and Jurriaan Huskens  and Nico Overeem from the University of Twente (Nico joined GD in November) have developed can be used to help predict the zoonotic potential of influenza viruses. This information is important when analysing  the risk posed by zoonotic viruses, such as influenza  and coronavirus. To answer the question: How does a virus recognise human ‘host cells’, despite the cell surface being different to that seen in animals? the researchers replicated the surface of a cell on a microchip, in order to understand this binding process at a molecular level. The binding process is complex: the length, structure and density of these sugars (glycans) vary between humans and animals, and a minimum number of receptor cells also appear to be required for a virus to attach to a host cell. The researchers created a cell surface with varying sugar densities  and structures on this biosensor. This allowed the researchers to determine for the first time the minimum sugar density needed for a virus to attach. This minimum sugar density was  also highly dependent on the length and type of sugar structure. The biosensor therefore provides insight into how a virus binds to different host cells, with the minimum receptor density  for avian or human-type receptors acting as a measure for the  risk of zoonosis. This knowledge allows more accurate estimation of the risk of influenza viruses being transmitted from animals  to humans. These insights will also be important for future  research into other zoonotic viruses, such as coronaviruses.

But how does a virus recognise human ‘host cells’?

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