Viruses adapt through new evolutionary path, study says

Avatar By Tyler MacDonald | 3 years ago

Researchers from the University of California San Diego have discovered evidence suggesting that viruses utilize a new path of evolution. The findings reveal the speed at which organisms such as viruses adapt to their surroundings.

The team ran experiments that found that viruses can infect “normal” hosts, which is expected. However, they also found evidence that they can infect new hosts targets — a process never before seen in evolution. The data could help solve the mysteries surrounding the genetic acquisition of new functions and the manifestation of mutations that ease transmission between hosts.

“This research shows us that viruses are much more adaptable than previously anticipated,” Justin Meyer, senior author of the study, said in a press release. “By learning how viruses achieve evolutionary flexibility, we have new insight into how to set up road blocks to stop the emergence of new diseases.”

The team discovered the means by which viruses violate well-accepted rules of molecular biology using a previously unknown evolutionary path.

“We were able to capture this evolutionary process in action,” said Katherine Petrie, lead author of the study. “We found that the protein’s ‘mistakes’ allowed the virus to infect its normal host, as well as different host cells. This nongenetic variation in the protein is a way to access more functions from a single DNA gene sequence. It’s like a buy-one-get-one-free special for the protein.”

The new findings could help improve our understanding of viral diseases like Zika, Ebola, and bird flu.

The findings were published in Science.