Spitzer 'splainer: This flu virus likes to bump and rub
In Greek mythology, the mighty Lapiths had their butts handed to them by the centaurs. My question is this: what were you thinking, Lapiths? I mean, they're centaurs. They have horse bodies and man-heads. No way you're gonna beat that. Similarly, sort of, we're now confronting a hybrid little beastie of our own. The 2009 H1N1 flu virus is a crazy chimera of a thing. It is the love child of three species-specific viruses, a bird-pig-person germ. We might ask, how does this happen? And what makes it different from the regular flu? Well, I'm here to tell you something you may not know about viruses: they are promiscuous as hell. And here's something you may not know about pigs: they are little biological swingers clubs. Flu viruses don't have DNA like many organisms -- their genetic material is carried in strands of RNA. And, that RNA is divided up into little discrete segments. When viruses get to all bumpin' and rubbin' up on each other in a host cell, they freely swap these segments around. Filthy little buggers. The results of this, according to University of Chicago infectious disease expert Kenneth Alexander, is usually "¦ nothing. Most of the products of such unholy coupling are just failed viruses. But occasionally, you'll get a combination that works, and a new kind of virus survives and starts copying itself.