Scientists at the University of Liverpool studied the Zaire Ebola strain, which is responsible for the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and found that subsequent transmission of the virus has caused it to 'hot up' and become more severe.
The research team analyzed the viruses at different stages 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 were able to identify several changes in its genetic material that were associated with increased disease. They found that initially the animal systems were not affected by the deadly virus, but subsequent transmission into other animals caused it to become more severe.
Researcher Julian Hiscox explained, "We were able to show through genetic analysis which parts of the virus are involved in this process and the information we have gathered will now allow us to monitor for such changes in an outbreak as well as develop future treatment strategies."
Researcher Roger Hewson said, "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 our collaboration shows how we can bring together 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 analyze patient samples recently taken by the European Mobile Laboratory from West Africa to understand disease evolution during the current outbreak.
The study has been published in the journal Genome Biology.