The mutation made it much easier for the virus to enter human cells.
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa that infected tens of thousands of people back in 2014 happened because of a simple mutation in the gene.
The mutation evolved so that it could target the human cells causing it to become more infectious to humans despite the original virus only primarily affecting bats.
A team of researchers identified a genetic mutation called GP-A82V after looking at the genomes of over 1,400 Ebola cases. They discovered the mutation on an outer protein of the virus that can impact the effectiveness of the virus in human cells and it’s this that caused the outbreak to be much more severe resulting in the epidemic.
They believe the mutation made it much easier for the virus to be passed from animals to humans but at the moment, the team don’t know how this is so.
“We think this shows that when you have large outbreaks, of Ebola or other viruses, you could have these events where they may evolve to become more successful in a new host,” first co-author Nathan Grubaugh, a TSRI research associate, stated.
The good news is GP-A82V will be eradicated once all Ebola cases with the mutation disappear although more research into other possible mutations and the evolution of mutations needs to be studied more to help prevent future outbreaks.
Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at the University of Nottingham, led a similar study and came to the same conclusion and highlighted the importance of understanding mutations in the Ebola virus. He stated that the mutation “can impact the virus’s ability to infect human cells—and we saw those changes being passed from generation to generation of viruses. To us, that’s a bit of a smoking gun.”
Details of the study were published in the journal Cell.