Genetic sequence for deadly virus discovered for first time

Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute announced on Monday the discovery of the genetic sequence of the Nipah virus, one of the deadliest viruses on the planet.

"This structure shows how key pieces of the virus's machinery are oriented and tethered together," TSRI Professor and Senior Author of the study Erica Ollmann Saphire said. "This is part of a larger program to illuminate how these deadly viruses replicate."

The Nipah virus is a pathogen carried by the Flying Fruit Bat that plagues Southeast Asia. Malaysia, India and Bangladesh are most affected by the virus, and have suffered from annual Nipah outbreaks since 1997. There is currently no vaccine or cure for infection.

The Nipah virus is most known for infecting livestock, such as pigs, horses, sheep and goats. Since the first outbreak, however, infections have plagued humans and are becoming increasingly more fatal. Lethality has increased from 40 percent to between 70 and 100 percent among infected persons.

"It's the scariest virus you've never heard of," graduate student studying under Saphire Jessica Bruhn said.

The study's researchers were able to isolate the genetic structure of the virus for the first time, reporting that it has a similar model to the protein structure of measles and mumps viruses while expressing a different three dimensional structure. The study has opened the door to the development of potential treatments and vaccines against Nipah infection.

"If you can prevent the virus from making more RNA, then it can't replicate, which is a good strategy for developing antiviral medications," Bruhn said.

The research team plans to continue studying the virus, with the help of scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to identify why it is so deadly. The virus is a biosafety level 4 pathogen, meaning it can only be studied piece by piece. This new discovery does, however, give hope that a vaccine and treatment for infection can be developed in the near future.