Syndicate content

Archive - Aug 12, 2017

Portable DNA Sequencer (MinION) Enables Researchers to Monitor Evolution of Zika Virus

An international group of researchers on board a mobile laboratory equipped with an innovative hand-held genetic sequencing device are tracking the movement of the Zika virus since it disembarked in Brazil and began spreading through the Americas. According to the scientists, their aim is to monitor the viral genome's evolution and to understand what has happened, so as to be able to predict future outbreaks and to keep diagnostic methods up to date. The first results of Project ZiBRA (Zika in Brazil Real Time Analysis), which is supported by Brazil's Ministry of Health, FAPESP, and several other entities, were published online on May 24, 2017 in Nature. The article is titled “Establishment and Cryptic Transmission of Zika Virus in Brazil and the Americas.” "By combining epidemiological and genetic data, we were able to see that Zika circulated silently in all regions of the Americas at least a year before the virus was first confirmed, in May 2015," said Dr. Nuno Faria, a researcher in the Zoology Department of Oxford University, UK, and first author of the article. According to Dr. Faria, Zika was introduced into Brazil's Northeast region in February 2014. Transmission in the region probably occurred throughout the year but was not especially pronounced. "The major outbreak very probably occurred in 2015, concurrently with the dengue outbreak," he said. "Zika spread from Northeast to Southeast Brazil [initially Rio de Janeiro] and also to the Caribbean and other countries in South and Central America, eventually reaching Florida." The findings were based on an analysis of 254 whole genomes of the pathogen, 54 of them sequenced in this study. Most of the new genetic data were obtained using MinION, a palm-sized sequencer made by Oxford Nanopore Technologies and weighing less than 100 g.