Team makes strides in fight against Zika

November 15, 2016, Texas A&M University
Transmission electron microscope image of negative-stained, Fortaleza-strain Zika virus (red), isolated from a microcephaly case in Brazil. The virus is associated with cellular membranes in the center. Credit: NIAID

There's a war raging on a tiny battlefield and the outcome could well touch millions of people worldwide threatened by Zika and related viruses. The key ally unlocking the mystery surrounding this conflict is the long-dreaded yellow fever virus.

Dr. Kevin Myles, Glady "Hazitha" Samuel and Dr. Zach Adelman are Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists at Texas A&M University, College Station, who published "Yellow fever virus capsid protein is a potent suppressor of RNA silencing that binds double-stranded RNA."

The paper appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The mystery has been how these get around the insect's immune response, and the answer is the virus makes a protein that suppresses the immune response, Myles said.

"When are infected with these viruses, there's a signal that lets the mosquito's cells know that they are infected, resulting in targeting of the virus by the mosquito's immune response.

"Something similar occurs in our bodies when we're infected with these viruses; there are signals our cells detect that let our immune system know all is not well," he said.

The AgriLife Research team found a protein that is produced by virus, as well as Zika virus, West Nile virus and , that suppresses the immune response of the mosquito.

"While the mosquito doesn't want the virus in its body any more than we want it in ours, and is trying to get rid of it, the virus isn't defenseless," Myles said. "It's fighting back and deploying its own countermeasures. Basically this is what's known as an evolutionary arms race. The survival of this group of viruses depends on their ability to stay one step ahead of the mosquito's immune response."

Now that the scientists know this, there are a couple of options. By using gene drive, a method targeting specific genes, they could go in and tip the scale in the mosquito's favor. Alternatively, they could give the nod to the virus. In the latter, the virus would actually make the mosquito sick preventing transmission to humans.

"It will also be interesting to see if this protein interferes with the human immune response," Myles said. "Certainly similar types of proteins have been found in other viruses that are not transmitted by mosquitoes but do infect people, influenza viruses for example.

"If it does interfere with our , it could become a target for vaccine development, not only for Zika virus, but possibly other viruses as well.

"More research is needed before we reach that point though, but as ironic as it may seem, we are using the yellow fever virus, once arguably the most feared pestilence in the Western Hemisphere, to help us defeat the Zika and quite possibly others as well."

Myles and his colleague Dr. Zach Adelman joined the department of entomology at Texas A&M on Aug.1. The scientists were previously at Virginia Tech and now lead AgriLife Research's efforts to stop Zika.

Myles is working to understand the basic biology of how viruses such as Zika replicate in mosquitoes, and Adelman's projects involve creating mosquitoes resistant to viruses such as Zika.

Explore further: Zika Virus in the Southeast

More information: Yellow fever virus capsid protein is a potent suppressor of RNA silencing that binds double-stranded RNA, PNAS, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1600544113

Related Stories

Zika Virus in the Southeast

October 3, 2016
As of the end of July 2016, there have been 1,658 cases of Zika virus infections diagnosed in the United States. It is believed that most of these infections were contracted outside the United States. While the Zika virus ...

Zika virus research aims to control, fight mosquitoes

July 1, 2016
Kansas State University is helping the fight against Zika virus through mosquito research.

Brazil scientists: Culex mosquito not transmitting Zika

September 6, 2016
Brazilian researchers say they have concluded that the common Culex mosquito is not transmitting Zika, the rapidly spreading virus that has been linked to severe birth defects.

New analysis sheds light on Zika virus evolution and spread

October 13, 2016
In a study published in Pathogens and Global Health, researchers have modelled the evolutionary development and diversity of the Zika virus to better understand how infection spreads between populations and how the virus ...

Zika virus: Five things to know

February 8, 2016
A concise "Five things to know about.... Zika virus infection" article for physicians highlights key points about this newly emerged virus in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Recommended for you

Research finds new mechanism that can cause the spread of deadly infection

April 20, 2018
Scientists at the University of Birmingham have discovered a unique mechanism that drives the spread of a deadly infection.

Selection of a pyrethroid metabolic enzyme CYP9K1 by malaria control activities

April 20, 2018
Researchers from LSTM, with partners from a number of international institutions, have shown the rapid selection of a novel P450 enzyme leading to insecticide resistance in a major malaria vector.

Study predicts 2018 flu vaccine will have 20 percent efficacy

April 19, 2018
A Rice University study predicts that this fall's flu vaccine—a new H3N2 formulation for the first time since 2015—will likely have the same reduced efficacy against the dominant circulating strain of influenza A as the ...

Low-cost anti-hookworm drug boosts female farmers' physical fitness

April 19, 2018
Impoverished female farm workers infected with intestinal parasites known as hookworms saw significant improvements in physical fitness when they were treated with a low-cost deworming drug. The benefits were seen even in ...

Zika presents hot spots in brains of chicken embryos

April 19, 2018
Zika prefers certain "hot spots" in the brains of chicken embryos, offering insight into how brain development is affected by the virus.

Super-superbug clones invade Gulf States

April 18, 2018
A new wave of highly antibiotic resistant superbugs has been found in the Middle East Gulf States, discovered by University of Queensland researchers.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.