New form of Ebola virus may cause disease in humans

London, March 25 (IANS) The Reston virus, a member of the Ebola virus family which is known to circulate in domestic pigs in Asia, may acquire the few mutations necessary to cause disease in humans and to develop into a novel health threat, researchers have warned.

A team of researchers from the University of Kent in England examined the differences between Ebola viruses that cause severe disease in humans and the Reston virus that does not.

The Reston virus, which is known to circulate in domestic pigs in Asia and occasionally infect humans, is currently the only member of the Ebola virus family not to have been reported as causing life-threatening disease in humans.

Using computational analysis of the sequences of the genomes of Ebola viruses and a computational prediction of the effects of sequence variations on virus function, the researchers identified characteristic differences in a number of virus proteins.

Only a few changes in one Ebola virus protein, VP24, may be necessary to render the Reston virus into a virus that can cause human disease, said senior lecturer in computational biology Mark Wass and colleagues.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports

There may be a risk therefore that Reston viruses acquire the few mutations necessary to cause disease in humans and to develop into a novel health threat, the study said.

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