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Revealed -- how Ebola virus originated

Written by Editorial Team |Published : October 25, 2014 2:51 PM IST

A recent discovery revealed that filoviruses - a family to which Ebola and its similarly lethal relative Marburg belong - could be traced back to at least 16-23 million years ago. Filoviruses were likely to have existed in the Miocene Epoch and at that time, lines leading to Ebola and Marburg had already rooted out, as stated.

'Filoviruses are far more ancient than previously thought. These things have been interacting with mammals for a long time, several million years,' said lead researcher Derek Taylor, professor of biological sciences at the University at Buffalo in the US.

In the study, Taylor and co-author Jeremy Bruenn reported finding remnants of filovirus-like genes in various rodents.

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One fossil gene, called VP35, appeared in the same spot in the genomes of four different rodent species: two hamsters and two voles.

This meant the material was likely to have been acquired in or before the Miocene Epoch, prior to when these rodents evolved into distinct species some 16-23 million years ago.

'These rodents have billions of base pairs in their genomes, so the odds of a viral gene inserting itself at the same position in different species at different times are very small. It is likely that the insertion was present in the common ancestor of these rodents,' Taylor added.

The genetic material in the VP35 fossil was more closely related to Ebola than to Marburg, indicating that the lines leading to these viruses had already begun diverging from each other in the Miocene.

The first Ebola outbreak in humans occurred in 1976 and scientists still know little about the virus' history.

The research was published in the journal Peer

Other facts about Ebola

The Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe condition caused by a virus from the Filoviridae family. According to scientists there are five different types of the virus, all of which have the potential to infect humans.

According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) this disease can be transmitted from close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In humans the disease can be transmitted by the following methods:

  • Coming into contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of an infected person.
  • Healthcare workers may contract the disease through transmission as well through contact with infected bodily fluids.
  • Handling the meat from infected animals.
  • Contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person who has passed away. Know more here.

With inputs from IANS

Image source: Getty Images

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