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Flu and Bananas: Alterations in Popular Fruit May Fight Flu

Oct 26, 2015 06:33 PM EDT

Bananas: More than just a later-afternoon potassium source? A new study says that with slight changes, the tropical yellow fruit holds the potential to battle many viruses, particularly the flu, according to a release.

The technique that creates the form that fights viruses may also be the first step to developing other drugs that take hold of the "sugar code" used by our cells to talk amongst themselves. Viruses and other invaders tend to lasso that code and take it for a ride.

Here's what we're talking about: A protein called banana lectin, or BanLec, can "read" sugars on the exteriors of viruses and cells. While a previous study showed that the same thing could prevent the virus that causes AIDS from entering cells, there were also side effects that kept it from becoming a common usage, the release noted.

However, the new findings, published in the journal Cell, note that a team of scientists put together a new version of BanLec that fights mouse viruses but doesn't cause inflammation and irritation.

The new version, called H84T, is effective against the viruses behind AIDS, influenza and hepatitis C in tests in blood samples and tissue. In mice, it also worked at preventing infection by the flu virus.

"What we've done is exciting because there is potential for BanLec to develop into a broad spectrum antiviral agent, something that is not clinically available to physicians and patients right now," David Markovitz, one of the senior authors of the new report and a professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a release. "But it's also exciting to have created it by engineering a lectin molecule for the first time, by understanding and then targeting the structure."

The team says that BanLec will still be researched for several years before humans can be tested. But as Markowitz noted, better flu treatments are "desperately needed," so progress is good.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales

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