Computer analysis shows Ebola virus hasn't mutated

Ebola virus has not yet mutated into deadlier form | Courtesy of
University of Manchester researchers recently used state-of-the-art computer analysis to determine that the Ebola virus has not yet mutated into an even deadlier form of illness.

The analysis shows that even though there have been mutations within the virus since the first Ebola outbreak 40 years ago, the virus’s functional level has not become any more or less deadly. The computational approach was developed by Abayomi Olabode, a Ph.D. student, who wanted to analyze the changes occurring in HIV-1. Data from Olabode’s research showed that the virus’s protein structure had adapted, but the same computations did not show these results with the Ebola virus.

“Using data from every outbreak since 1976 we were able to highlight what changes there had been in the RNA of the virus and then, using specially developed tools, predict the consequences of those changes,” Faculty of Life Sciences Professor Simon Lovell said. “What we found was that whilst Ebola is mutating, it isn't evolving to the point of adapting to become more or less virulent. The function of the virus has remained the same over the past four decades which really surprised us. Unfortunately this does mean the Ebola virus that has now emerged on several occasions since the 1970s will very probably do so again."

The final results showed that the most recent outbreak had a much larger death toll (approximately 10,500) but this is not because of deadly mutations within the virus.

“The fact that Ebola isn't changing in a way that effects the virulence of the disease means that vaccines and treatments developed during this current outbreak have a very high chance of being effective against future outbreaks,” Professor David Robertson said. “It also means that methods to successfully tackle the virus should work again, so hopefully in the future an outbreak can be stopped from spreading at a much earlier stage."

Lovell said the study demonstrates the vital role computational analysis can play during a virus outbreak.

“As scientists our role is to worry about the potential changes our research tool allows us to map what is happening within a virus and the consequences of any changes," he said. "Ebola will occur again, and it's only through such close monitoring that we will contain it and ultimately eradicate it."

More details can be found in the Virology journal.

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