National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health

Scientists have identified mutations that could allow a lethal strain of bird flu to become more contagious among humans, according to a study in PLOS Pathogens.

Why it matters: The H7N9 strain of bird flu has killed at least a third of the estimated 1500 people it has infected in China since 2013 - and there has been a surge in cases this year. The strain currently doesn't pass easily between people and most cases have occurred after people come in contact with infected poultry. But public health officials are concerned about the potential for H7N9 to mutate into a contagious virus, like other flu viruses have in the past.

What they did: Scientists at the Scripps Institute made mutations to a protein called hemagglutinin that allows the virus to attach to host cells and found that different combinations of three changes in the protein allowed H7N9 to attach to cells found in humans' upper respiratory tract. If the virus evolved to have those mutations, it could theoretically then spread between people by coughing and sneezing, like human flu viruses.

Yes, but... The researchers only altered a fragment of the virus and studied the effect in isolated cells. To assess whether the changes actually yield a virus that can be transmitted, they would like to test them in ferrets (which are often used as a model for studying flu transmission in humans). But, there is currently a moratorium in the U.S. on "gain of function" research that gives a pathogen more capability to cause disease. NPR reports that could soon be lifted.

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The positions of key GOP senators on replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talks to reporters on Capitol Hill last Thursday. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

With President Trump planning to nominate his third Supreme Court justice nominee by next week, key Republican senators are indicating their stance on replacing the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg just over six weeks out from Election Day.

The big picture: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has vowed that "Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate." But Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) told Alaska Public Media, "I would not vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee. We are 50 some days away from an election."

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

ActBlue collects a record $91 million in hours after Ginsburg's death

A makeshift memorial in honor of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Sept. 19. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

ActBlue received a record $91.4 million in the 28 hours following Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, the Democratic donation-processing site confirmed to Axios late Saturday.

Why it matters via the New York Times: "The unprecedented outpouring shows the power of a looming Supreme Court confirmation fight to motivate Democratic donors."

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 30,674,077 — Total deaths: 955,440— Total recoveries: 20,908,811Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 11:30 p.m. ET: 6,764,803 — Total deaths: 199,258 — Total recoveries: 2,577,446 — Total tests: 94,211,463Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: The dwindling chances of eliminating COVID-19.
  5. World: Guatemalan president tests positive for COVID-19 — The countries painting their pandemic recoveries green.