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Tracking DNA mutations of Zika virus could reveal its evolutionary path across oceans

| December 16, 2016

How do you [determine] the history of an invisible virus [like the Zika virus], which leaves no physical record?

This is where genetics can help, since single-strand RNA viruses like Zika tend to change rapidly over time and, with bioinformatics, researchers can deduce what the ancestral relationships are between different viruses collected at different places in different times from different hosts. While the first noted occurrence of the virus was in Africa, it was detected only a few years later in Asia, and separate lineages of the disease are known from both areas – a clue that the history hidden in the genes may be complicated.

“Our results indicate that Zika may have deep ancestry in Asia that has been under-recorded,” [University of North Carolina at Charlotte Bioinformatics and Genomics Professor Daniel Janies] said. “For example, not all the recent global outbreaks of Zika appear to result from a simple linear chronology of travel from the most recent past outbreak.”

The finding that Zika has mutated to be better at binding to human Musashi proteins, leads to the hypothesis that Zika is adapting to be more efficient at attacking human cells.

Evolutionary tree of 194 isolates of Zika virus as they spread from the Pacific to the Americas in 2015 and radiated in 2016. We projected this tree into a virtual globe with software produced at UNC Charlotte. Credit: Daniel Janies
Evolutionary tree of 194 isolates of Zika virus as they spread from the Pacific to the Americas in 2015 and radiated in 2016. We projected this tree into a virtual globe with software produced at UNC Charlotte. Credit: Daniel Janies

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Read full, original post: Mutations acquired trans-Pacific may be key to changes in Zika severity

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion, and analysis. Click the link above to read the full, original article.
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