Ferrets are adorable. Come on, look at that face! And if the cuteness factor wasn’t enough, new research is giving us an even better reason to appreciate these guys. Did you know that ferrets are an excellent model for studying the flu virus?

It’s been known for years that ferrets are susceptible to the human influenza A virus, but until recently, the reason wasn’t fully understood. Now, unless you have a pet ferret and you didn’t get your flu shot, this may not seem relevant to you. But researchers often look at similarities between humans and animals in an attempt to understand diseases, and in this case, the similarities could make a big difference in the potential for developing new drugs and treatments for influenza A.

Different strains of the flu bind to different forms of a sugar in the body called sialic acid. While most animals’ bodies make two types of sialic acid, humans and ferrets share a mutation that only allows them to make one- the same one. This similarity makes the ferret an excellent model for studying the influenza A virus, and researchers hope that the ferret will provide them with answers that will ultimately help humans. Read more about this research here.

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