Zika Virus Genetic Study To Fast Track Vaccine Research
By looking at the genetics of Zika virus, a new method has been found by the Scientists at The University of Queensland and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to fast-track research which could lead to new vaccines. They have formulated a novel technique to identify Zika mutations that help in virus replication in mosquito hosts while negatively impacting its ability to replicate in mammals.
Dr. Yin Xiang Setoh from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences stated that – this technique would supercharge research on Zika and that can lead to birth defects and other similar viruses.
Dr. Yin said, “We utilized deep mutational scanning to survey each the possible amino acid mutations in what is called the envelope protein of the virus, which is responsible for how it binds with, enters and exits host cells”.
He also said that they found two mutations that resulted in a virus which grew well in mosquito cells, but very poorly in mammalian cells, revealing the amino acids that are critical for Zika virus to survive in mammals.
Head of the QIMR Berghofer’s Inflammation Biology laboratory Professor Andreas Suhrbier stated that the new technique enabled scientists to perform evolutionary virus selection in a matter of days a process that would take tens or hundreds of years in nature.
Professor Andreas Suhrbier stated that- This technique is used in combination with modeling, will give us an insight into why evolution has chosen a particular path.
“We’re raising the curtain on evolutionary processes and speeding up natural processes such as never before.”
Lead researcher and head at RNA Virology lab at UQ Associate Professor Alexander Khromykh stated that, With the help of this rapid technique, they can now investigate how Zika virus can reach the placenta and cross in the fetus in order to isolate the viral genetic factors accountable and it may also help in providing crucial knowledge for creating a successful Zika vaccine.
Continuing further he stated that- Indeed, Zika virus that was engineered to contain the two mutations showed great potential as a vaccine.
He added that at exactly the same time they might have the ability to identify the genetic factors behind virus replication and transmission by mosquitoes which would help us reveal how Zika is transmitted.
Professor Alexander Khromykh further stated that this technique may also be applied in the investigation of the development of the disease and the transmission of a range of similar viruses which are transmitted by mosquitoes ticks and other invertebrates.
“It took us a few years, and of course a substantial collaborative effort, to get to this stage and we are incredibly excited to see what is next.”
The research was initiated with seed funding from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Center.