Sunday, October 9, 2016

Understanding The Zika Virus Through Genome Sequencing

The Zika virus is actually not a new virus at all. Humans have known about the existence of the Zika virus dating all the way back to World War II. The virus was first discovered in monkeys but then later discovered in some humans living in Africa. It wasn't until recently that we have understood what the Zika virus is capable of. Over the past few months the Zika virus has become more and more prevalent posing a threat on society. With advancements in technology we now know that the Zika virus can lead to devastating birth defects. These include microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Microcephaly is a birth defect in which the baby's head is much smaller than expected. Microcephaly restricts the brain from developing properly in fetal growth. Microcephaly can lead to a series of major health problems depending on how severe the condition is. One of the major questions regarding the Zika virus is how does it cause these conditions to occur in fetal development?

Zika virus

Recently an international team of researches have been sequencing the entire genome of the Zika virus. By sequencing the whole genome the coding regions of the viral genome are being sequenced as well as the non coding regions. The coding region is the part that makes proteins. By studying the genome researches have discovered that Zika contains a molecule that seems to block a part of the host's immune system.
The molecule called subgenomic flavivirus RNA (sfRNA) has "antagonist activity against RIG-I-induced type 1 interferon induction with a lesser effect on MDA-5 mediation action.
With this information researches can move to trying to find a possible vaccine for the Zika virus to protect women who are pregnant. Also by studying the Zika virus' genome it can help with finding a cure to prevent microcephaly from occurring.


  1. Alexandra, nice job with the article! I didn't know the extent to which the Zika virus has been prevalent in world history. It's interesting that this virus was known during the late 1940's but has only just become prevalent in the world today. Maybe the virus has mutated over the generations becoming what it is today. It's definitely relieving to know that there are people continuing to research a vaccine for this disease. It seems that by genetic sequencing, we can finally find a way to prevent things like microcephaly.

  2. Just as Vinh stated, I did not know that this disease has been known since World War II. The first time I heard about it was during the outbreak over the last few years. I would really like to find out why the disease has spread so rapidly over the past few years and has been such a concern. Could it be due to certain environmental factors or is the virus slowly gaining strength? Also, I wonder if the virus can be treated using something such as small interfering RNA's? Although this virus can have profound effects on babies, it is reassuring to know that many researchers are working to find a cure for the virus.