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Scientists See Viruses Like Ebola Do Something They Didn't Know About Until Now

"Probably contributes to how the virus grows."

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Filoviruses, like Ebola, were recently discovered to do something scientists say they didn't know about before now: They "edit" their genes as they infect hosts.

The research published this week in the American Society for Microbiology's journal mBio revealed insight into how filoviruses behave during the replication and transcription of their genetic code. Ebola and Marburg virus were the specific strains studied.

What scientists saw was a protein involved in RNA synthesis adding extra nucleotides, thus making new RNA. Specially, the researchers found this happening in glycoprotein RNA, which makes a protein that coats the virus' surface.

Photo credit: Shutterstock Photo credit: Shutterstock

Dr. Christopher Basler, a professor of microbiology at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine said scientists "previously didn't realize" that viruses like this could be making different proteins upon infecting the host.

"Our study suggests that the Ebola virus is making forms of proteins previously undescribed," lead author Dr. Reed Shabman, an assistant professor at the J. Craig Venter Institute, said in a statement. "Understanding the products of these viruses is critical to understanding how to target them." 

Basler said they're not sure what these changes mean in the biology of the virus yet. They do, however, know that the proteins produced by the glycoprotein site are associated with virulence.

"We infer that this probably contributes to how the virus grows in a person or an animal," Basler said.

In other Ebola outbreak news:

  • Overestimating? While some worst case scenario estimates put possible infections by mid-January at over 1 million, more recently scientists have suggested that some models are overestimating the number of future infections.
  • Spanish nurse released but mourning lost dog: Teresa Romero has recovered from having Ebola but slammed Spanish officials for killing her beloved dog, saying the mixed breed named Excalibur was unnecessarily "executed."

Teresa Romero, bottom right, arrives with medical workers to give a press statement before she leaves the Carlos III hospital in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. A Spanish nursing assistant who recovered from Ebola has been discharged from a Madrid hospital a month after she was admitted with the virus. She was the first person known to have contracted the disease outside of West Africa in the latest outbreak. (AP/Andres Kudacki) A Spanish nursing assistant who recovered from Ebola has been discharged from a Madrid hospital a month after she was admitted with the virus. She was the first person known to have contracted the disease outside of West Africa in the latest outbreak. (AP/Andres Kudacki)

  • $6.2 billion: That's how much President Barack Obama is seeking $6.2 billion to confront Ebola in West Africa and prevent spread in U.S.
  • 6,000 per day: This is how many yellow protective suits Weifang Lakeland Safety Products factory in China's eastern Shandong province city of Anqui makes each day. It plans to double its capacity by January.

Nearly 5,000 people have died of the disease, and an additional 13,676 confirmed, probable or suspected cases of infection had been reported in the three hardest-hit countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

(H/T: Science Daily)

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Front page image via Shutterstock.

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