Study finds Ebola virus mutates spontaneously and frequently

Courtesy of the CDC
Scientists from Texas Biomedical Research Institute (TBRI) recently discovered that the Ebola virus mutates much more spontaneously and frequently than researchers originally estimated.

The World Health Organization recently announced that Guinea is completely free of Ebola infections. Unfortunately, this good news does not mean that the work in discovering cures and therapies is finished. Health officials are concerned that if they don’t create vaccines and treatments for Ebola today, another epidemic could start soon.

The team at TBRI was studying cures and preventions for Ebola long before the latest epidemic. The team used an approach called ultra deep sequencing that allows them to see the spontaneous, frequent mutations of Ebola. There were high rates of these mutations, which had RNA like other viruses.

"Typically, RNA viruses have high spontaneous mutation rates, which permit rapid evolution and the ability to adapt to new selection pressures,” TBRI's Dr. Anthony Griffiths, author of a new study that will be published in the Journal of Virology, said. “These selection pressures can include antiviral drugs, the immune system, or even new animal hosts."

The genetic changes don’t necessarily make the virus any more lethal than it already is.

"Any change in a genome can be neutral, negative, or positive to a virus," Griffiths said. "Interestingly, viruses appear to have evolved to have an optimal mutation rate. Increasing the mutation rate could produce a negative effect on the virus and serve as a valuable therapeutic tool."

Organizations in this Story

Texas Biomedical Research Institute

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