Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission during the 2014 outbreak

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Science  12 Sep 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6202, pp. 1369-1372
DOI: 10.1126/science.1259657

Evolution of Ebola virus over time

The high rate of mortality in the current Ebola epidemic has made it difficult for researchers to collect samples of the virus and study its evolution. Gire et al. describe Ebola epidemiology on the basis of 99 whole-genome sequences, including samples from 78 affected individuals. The authors analyzed changes in the viral sequence and conclude that the current outbreak probably resulted from the spread of the virus from central Africa in the past decade. The outbreak started from a single transmission event from an unknown animal reservoir into the human population. Two viral lineages from Guinea then spread from person to person into Sierra Leone.

Science, this issue p. 1369


In its largest outbreak, Ebola virus disease is spreading through Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. We sequenced 99 Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients in Sierra Leone to ~2000× coverage. We observed a rapid accumulation of interhost and intrahost genetic variation, allowing us to characterize patterns of viral transmission over the initial weeks of the epidemic. This West African variant likely diverged from central African lineages around 2004, crossed from Guinea to Sierra Leone in May 2014, and has exhibited sustained human-to-human transmission subsequently, with no evidence of additional zoonotic sources. Because many of the mutations alter protein sequences and other biologically meaningful targets, they should be monitored for impact on diagnostics, vaccines, and therapies critical to outbreak response.

  • § These authors jointly supervised this work.

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