EXPERTS have discovered how diseases can mutate between species.
Scientists at Edinburgh University found that viruses are better able to infect species that are closely related to their typical target species than species that are distantly related.
The discovery could help predict the emergence of new diseases in the future.
The research could also help explain how viruses such as bird flu and swine flu crossed the species divide.
After making such a large inter-species jump viruses may then spread easily in species closely related to the new victim, regardless of how closely related these are to the original target species.
Along with researchers at Cambridge University, the scientists looked at a group of diseases which includes HIV, SARS and flu.
They infected more than 50 species of flies with three different viruses to prove their theories.
Dr Ben Longdon of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Biological Sciences, who led the study, said: “Emerging diseases such as SARS, HIV and some types of flu have all got into humans from other species. Understanding how diseases jump between different species is essential if we want to predict the appearance of new diseases in the future.”
The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Natural Environment Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Royal Society, was published in the journal PLoS Pathogens.