Zika Study May "Supercharge" Vaccine Research
Image credit: Pixabay
Scientists looking at the genetics of Zika virus have found a way to fast-track research which could lead to new vaccines.
The study, led by The University of Queensland and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, used a new technique to uncover Zika mutations that help foster virus replication in mosquito hosts, while hindering its ability to replicate in mammals.
Dr Yin Xiang Setoh from UQ’s School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences said the technique would supercharge research on Zika – which can cause birth defects – and other similar viruses.
“Viruses like Zika have adapted to grow in two contrasting systems – vertebrates, like us, and invertebrates, like mosquitos,” he said.
“We used deep mutational scanning to survey all of the possible amino acid mutations in what’s known as the envelope protein of the virus, which is responsible for how it binds with, enters and exits host cells.
“We found two mutations that resulted in a virus that 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.”
Professor Andreas Suhrbier, who heads QIMR Berghofer’s Inflammation Biology laboratory, said the new technique allowed scientists to perform evolutionary virus selection in a matter of days – a process that would take tens or hundreds of years in nature.
“This technique, used in conjunction with modelling, gives us an insight into why evolution has chosen a particular path,” he said.
“We’re lifting the curtain on evolutionary processes and speeding up natural processes like never before.”
Lead researcher, Associate Professor Alexander Khromykh, who heads RNA Virology laboratory at UQ, said the fast-tracking of virus research was an exciting development.
“Using this rapid technique, we can now investigate how Zika virus can reach the placenta and cross into the foetus, and to isolate the viral genetic factors responsible,” he said.
“This could help provide crucial knowledge for developing an effective Zika vaccine.
“Indeed, Zika virus that was engineered to contain the identified two mutations showed great potential as a vaccine.
“At the same time, we might be able to identify the genetic factors behind virus replication and transmission by mosquitoes, helping us understand how Zika is transmitted in nature.”
“This technique can also be applied to investigate the development of the disease and the transmission of a range of similar viruses, transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and other invertebrates.”
“It took us a number of years, not to mention a significant collaborative effort, to get to this stage and we’re incredibly excited to see what’s next.”
The study was initiated with seed funding from the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre.
This article has been republished from materials provided by The University of Queensland. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.
Setoh, Y. X. et al. (2019). Determinants of Zika virus host tropism uncovered by deep mutational scanning. Nature Microbiology https://www.nature.com/articles/s41564-019-0399-4
Since Darwin's era, scientists have wondered how flightless birds like emus, ostriches, kiwi, cassowaries and others are related, and for decades the assumption was that they must all share a common ancestor who abandoned the skies for a more grounded life. A team of Harvard researchers believes they may now have part of the answer.READ MORE
Victims of bullying in secondary school have dramatically increased chances of mental health problems and unemployment in later life. New research reveals stark consequences a decade on for pupils subjected to bullying. Those who are the victims of persistent or violent bullying suffer the worst consequences.READ MORE
Why is it that we can get sad, when we see someone else crying? Why is it that we wince, when a friend cuts his finger? Researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience have found that the rat brain activates the same cells when they observe the pain of others as when they experience pain themselves.READ MORE