updated 5/6/2009 1:33:27 PM ET 2009-05-06T17:33:27

Canadian scientists say they are the first to genetically sequence the swine flu virus, a breakthrough they hope will help identify the origins of the virus and reveal how it spreads and mutates.

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Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada's chief public health officer, said Wednesday that researchers at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, Manitoba, genetically sequenced three samples of the swine flu virus from Mexico and Canada.

Butler-Jones said it's a step forward in understanding how the virus works.

"This is a world first," Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq said.

U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials have said that having the full genetic sequence will help them watch how the virus evolves. It doesn't mean they'll immediately be able to stop the spread or treat the disease.

Dr. Frank Plummer said scientists completed the genetic sequencing on samples from Mexico and the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Ontario.

Genetic sequencing of the virus done in Canada has ruled out a mutation to explain why the Mexican cases have been much more severe than elsewhere.

"We are continuing our analysis, but essentially what it appears to suggest is that there is nothing at the genetic level that differentiates this virus that we've got from Mexico and those from Nova Scotia and Ontario," Plummer said.

There have been 46 confirmed deaths in Mexico and two in the United States. Canada's 165 confirmed cases have all been mild, except for a young Alberta girl who came down with a severe case.

Plummer said the genetic sequence would help scientists determine the origin of the virus.

"This is a significant and important milestone for us but there's still a lot more work ahead of us," Plummer said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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