Adriano Schneider, MS, PhD Candidate, Bioenformatics and Genomics, UNC Charlotte, maps the evolution of the Zika virus.
Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)
“Zika was [first] found in 1947 [in] mosquitoes in Africa, and it’s apparently been around in Africa for a while, but mostly people collect it from mosquito samples. A little after, in the 60s, they found the same virus in Asia and they were already dissimilar. So, we did a phylogenetic analysis to compare all of the available strains [of Zika virus],and we saw that there was a huge difference between the African clade [and] the Asia-Pacific clade. Then, we started investigating those [differences].
One of the things that is kind of a personal belief that I cannot prove yet, is that there’s a big reservoir of Zika in Asia, and not in Africa. Although it was first identified in Africa, and it makes sense that the host is in Africa, [one] presentation [at the First International Conference on Zika Virus mapped] the evolution of the vector and the vector getting out of Asia and then spread[ing]. I have that strong feeling that, if it came out of Africa, which was [so] long ago, that those two strains [are the same]; [it’s] not a new strain that came in a little while ago, but it was something that was already circulating in stealth in Asia before.
With that said, we recently published the evolution of the virus but we didn’t include any weather data or more vectoral distribution data, so we want to use that to see if there was a change of the weather that maybe increased the burst of Zika on the outbreaks that were in 2007. Then, it remained under stealth because people were not looking at it like a bad disease and there was this problem of: how can you differentiate Zika from Dengue and other diseases, too, if you just have mild fever and body pain? You don’t have any of those microcephalic or the whole neuro syndrome, and so, we identified a couple of mutations.”
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