Tracking the Mutations of the Zika Virus

Tracking the Mutations of the Zika Virus

For many people "Zika" wasn't a term they were familiar with until a public health emergency erupted in Brazil early last year and the virus began to spread through the Americas. However, the scientific community had been aware of the virus for over 70 years, according to IFLScience.com. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte recently conducted "one of the most detailed genetic analyses of the virus, tracking it as it spread from the Zika forest , throughout Asia, and finally into the Americas, and have been able to pinpoint at least two mutations that may have contributed to its current severity in the New World."


A report a team of UNC Charlotte researchers led by Daniel Janies, along with Robert Malone from Atheric Pharmaceutical and Jane Homan from IoGenetics LLC, was recent published in Cladistics. According to EurekAlert, "the Cladistics report traces Zika's phylogenetic tree through analysis of genetic sequences, combining it with the chronology and geographic information from the samples, and allows the researchers to detail the virus' probably historical path as well as specific genetic and structural changes in the virus as it traveled to the Americas." They noticed certain mutations in the viral RNA began to occur as  the virus "island-hopped across the Pacific." After taking a closer look, the researchers realized the spread of this mutation matched "the sudden appearance of microphaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome in French Polynesia," IFLScience.com reported. 


"Our results indicate that Zika may have deep ancestry in Asia that has been under-recorded," Janies said. "For example, not all the recent global outbreaks of Zike appear to result from a simple linear chronology of travel from the most recent past outbreak." This implies that multiple different strains of the virus are causing multiple different outbreaks.