A new study has revealed that the evolutionary goal of Ebola virus is to become “more lethal.” Scientists at the University of Liverpool looked at the Zaire Ebola strain, which is responsible for the current outbreak in West Africa, in an animal system to understand how it gains strength when it spreads from animals to humans and then from human-to-human contact.
They found that initially the animal systems were not affected by the virus, but subsequent transmission into other animals caused the virus to ‘hot up’ and become more severe. The team analysed the viruses at different stages and were able to identify several changes in its genetic material that were associated with increased disease.
Researcher Julian Hiscox explained that they were able to show through genetic analysiswhich parts of the virus are involved in this process and the information we have gathered will now allow them to monitor for such changes in an outbreak as well as develop future treatment strategies.
Researcher Roger Hewson added that Ebola virus is such a devastating infection to the people affected by the disease and the economy of West Africa. Scientists understanding of Ebola virus biology is way behind that of other viruses and their collaboration shows how they can bring together their specialists skills to close this knowledge gap.
Co-author Miles Carroll noted that this study has allowed the team to be at the forefront of developing methodologies to analyse patient samples recently taken by the European Mobile Laboratory from West Africa to understand disease evolution during the current outbreak.
The study is published in the journal Genome Biology.