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Genomic Sequencing Reveals Mutations, Insights Into The Current Ebola Outbreak

Update Date: Aug 29, 2014 10:00 AM EDT
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In response to an on going, unexpected outbreak of Ebola virus disease in West Africa, a team of researchers has rapidly sequenced and analyzed more than 99 Ebola virus genomes. The findings could have significant implications for rapid field diagnostic tests. 

The sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes were collected from 78 patients diagnosed with Ebola in Sierra Leone during the first 24 days of the outbreak. Researchers asked a portion of the patients to contribute samples more than once as it allowed researchers a clearer view into how the virus can change in a single individual over the course of infection.

The study found that more than 300 genetic changes make the 2014 Ebola virus genomes distinct from the viral genomes tied to previous Ebola outbreaks. 

Researchers also observed sequence variations that indicated that the EVD outbreak started from a single introduction into human, subsequently spreading from person to person over many months. 

"By making the data immediately available to the community, we hope to accelerate response efforts," said co-senior author Pardis Sabeti, a senior associate member at the Broad Institute and an associate professor at Harvard University, in the press release. "Upon releasing our first batch of Ebola sequences in June, some of the world's leading epidemic specialists contacted us, and many of them are now also actively working on the data. We were honored and encouraged. A spirit of international and multidisciplinary collaboration is needed to quickly shed light on the ongoing outbreak."

Researchers' catalog of more than 300 mutations may serve as a starting point for other research groups. 

"We've uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks," said Stephen Gire, a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard. "Although we don't know whether these differences are related to the severity of the current outbreak, by sharing these data with the research community, we hope to speed up our understanding of this epidemic and support global efforts to contain it."

The findings are published in the journal Science

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