Researchers during a recent study succeeded in tracking down certain genetic mutations in the Zika virus which could tell us more on why the virus is suddenly causing various birth defects in children and also nerve disorder in adults.
The researchers have found out that the particular strain of the Zika virus which is rapidly spreading to the Caribbean and south and central America is not exactly the same strain of the Zika virus which was first found in Africa. The strain found in Africa seemed harmless in comparison to the one which is quickly spreading across Americas.
According to the researchers from University of California, Los Angeles and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences & Perking Union Medical College, the particular strain of the Zika virus which is currently rampant and is causing paralysing nerve disorders and birth defects descends from a strain that had circulated in Asian before it jumped across the Pacific.
Commenting on the findings of the study, a microbiology professor at UCLA, Genhong Cheng said, “We believe these changes may, at least partially, explain why the virus has demonstrated the capacity to spread exponentially in the human population in the Americas. These changes could enable the virus to replicate more efficiently, invade new tissues that provide protective niches for viral propagation, or evade the immune system, leading to viral persistence.”
The research team during the study has documented various major changes that have occurred in some of the Zika virus’ genes which can now be further examined to analyse if the genes are changing with the spread of the virus and how is it affecting people.
The researchers from the UCLA team wrote in a paper, “It is unclear why the Zika virus strain that already existed in 1966 in Malaysia did not have a significant clinical impact until 50 years later in Oceania. It confirms a lot of what we suspected,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, who was not involved in the research.”
Cheng also said that the Zika virus has undergone several major changes over the past 50 years.
The findings of the research were published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.