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Research shows potential for emergence of new Ebola virus that causes disease in humans

March 24, 2016

New research at the University of Kent has highlighted the potential for the emergence of a new form of Ebolavirus.

A team from the University's School of Biosciences examined the differences between Ebolaviruses that cause severe disease in humans and the Reston virus that does not.

The Reston virus, which is known to circulate in domestic pigs in Asia and occasionally infect humans, is currently the only member of the Ebolavirus family not to have been reported as causing life-threatening disease in humans.

Using computational analysis of the sequences of the genomes of Ebolaviruses and a computational prediction of the effects of sequence variations on virus function, the researchers, Dr Mark Wass, Senior Lecturer in Computational Biology, Professor Martin Michaelis, Professor of Molecular Medicine, and Dr Jeremy Rossman, Lecturer in Virology, and their teams, identified characteristic differences in a number of virus proteins.

The results suggested that only a few changes in one Ebolavirus protein, VP24, may be necessary to render the Reston virus into a virus that can cause human disease. There may be a risk therefore that Reston viruses acquire the few mutations necessary to cause disease in humans and to develop into a novel health threat.

The research, entitled Conserved differences in protein sequence determine the human pathogenicity of Ebolaviruses, is published in Scientific Reports. See here: http://www.nature.com/articles/srep23743.
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For further information contact Professor Martin Michaelis (M.Michaelis@kent.ac.uk), Dr Mark Wass (M.N.Wass@kent.ac.uk) or Dr Jeremy Rossman (J.S.Rossman@kent.ac.uk)

Or Martin Herrema at the University of Kent Press Office.
Tel: +44 (0)1227 823581
Email: M.J.Herrema@kent.ac.uk

News releases can also be found at http://www.kent.ac.uk/news

University of Kent on Twitter: http://twitter.com/UniKent

Note to editors

1. The ongoing Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa has so far resulted in more than 28,000 confirmed cases and more than 11,000 deaths. This is far more than during previous outbreaks. Prior to the current outbreak, an outbreak in Uganda in 2000 had been the largest one affecting 425 individuals and causing 244 deaths. The Ebolavirus family consists of five members. Four members of the Ebolavirus family (including Ebola virus, also known as Zaire ebolavirus, which is responsible for the current outbreak in West Africa) cause life-threatening disease including haemorrhagic fever in humans. Only one member of this virus family, the Reston virus, has not been reported to cause disease in humans so far, although it was reported to infect humans.

2. Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.

It has been ranked: third for overall student satisfaction in the 2014 National Student Survey; 16th in the Guardian University Guide 2016; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2016; and 22nd in the Complete University Guide 2015.

In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook.

Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.

Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium (http://www.kent.ac.uk/about/partnerships/eastern-arc.html).

The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.

In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

University of Kent

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