Researchers at Portuguese institute INSA describe its viral evolution and possible human adaptation
They believe that one or more introductions from a country where the virus is persistent are behind the current outbreak
The Pathogen causing the current outbreak of simian pox has mutated in a surprisingly strong way.according to a study by members of the National Institute of Health Doctor Ricardo Jorge (INSA.) in Lisbon (Portugal).
Compared with related viruses in 2018 and 2019, there are about 50 differences in genotype, according to the research team, based mainly on analyses of Portuguese cases. This is approximately six to 12 times more than would have been expected for this type of pathogen. on the basis of previous estimates. The divergent branch could be a sign of accelerated evolution.
“Our data reveal additional clues to ongoing viral evolution and possible human adaptation,” notes Dr. João Paulo Gomeswho led the study just published in the journal ‘Nature Medicine’.
Experts had so far spoken of a fundamentally rather slow development with respect to this type of virus, especially in comparison with the numerous mutations of the Covid-19 virus. The authors of the study suspect that one or more introductions from a country where the virus is persistent are behind the current outbreak. The superpropagation events and international travel. seemed to have promoted further escalation.
Experts also suspect that human immune system enzymes were responsible for these changes in the genome. The researchers add that there is no indication whether the mutations favored the current spread, but that could not be ruled out.
Nearly 5,000 infections
Worldwide, nearly 5,000 simian smallpox infections have been reported this year.. Of these, 3,308 cases were reported in 40 countries outside Africa. as of Wednesday, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Professor of Genetics of the Joint Unit of Infection and Public Health FISABIO at the Universitat ValènciaFernando González Candelas, points out that “it is the first peer-reviewed work that analyzes the genome of the monkeypox virus (MPXV) from patients involved in the recently detected outbreak”.
“The study employs most of the techniques and methodologies that have been used in the genomic study of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, adapting them to the specific characteristics of MPXV, such as its larger size (almost 10 times that of SARS-CoV-2) and the nature of the hereditary material (DNA instead of RNA). This implies a lower mutation rate but, because it is a larger genome, it allows transmission chains to be analyzed with high reliability.” explains to SMC Spain.
In his opinion, the most remarkable result is to demonstrate that the outbreak, detected in several countries almost simultaneously, has a unique origin and, furthermore, that this origin involves a virus that has undergone a significant number of changes with respect to the closest viruses of the same species identified so far (related to viruses endemic in Central and East African countries). “These genetic changes seem to be linked to adaptations to the new host (the human being, since the natural host of the virus are different rodents and other small mammals)”, warns the same source.
The disease is spread through close physical contact. Although the disease can be fatal, it is treatable but comes with a phase of bothersome rashes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has in recent hours taken this issue to the Emergency Committee of the International Health Regulations, where member countries have been asked to share information with WHO; detect cases, conduct proper contact tracing, sequence the genome and implement prevention and infection control measures; and strengthen their capacities to prevent the transmission of monkeypox.
“Although the spread of the MPXV outbreak is nowhere near as rapid or as widespread as that of SARS-CoV-2, we are. facing a new example of an emerging infection that can spread rapidly around the world. and that must be tackled as soon as possible to prevent more serious consequences. Genomic surveillance of these and other pathogens is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to achieve this goal,” concludes the Spanish expert.