Mutation rate and genotype variation of Ebola virus from Mali case sequences

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Science  03 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6230, pp. 117-119
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa5646

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Evolution in the Ebola virus outbreak

Has rapid mutation produced alarming new virus characteristics in the 2013–2015 Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa? Hoenen et al. sequenced isolates obtained 9 months into the epidemic from cases in Mali. The nucleotide substitution rate was consistent with rates estimated from past Central African outbreaks. In contrast, analysis of sequence data from early in the outbreak indicated rapid mutation. This more recent finding offers confidence that diagnostic methods, vaccines, and other treatment interventions will remain effective. Nevertheless, vigilance must be maintained: A few mutations can radically change the biological properties of other RNA viruses.

Science, this issue p. 117


The occurrence of Ebola virus (EBOV) in West Africa during 2013–2015 is unprecedented. Early reports suggested that in this outbreak EBOV is mutating twice as fast as previously observed, which indicates the potential for changes in transmissibility and virulence and could render current molecular diagnostics and countermeasures ineffective. We have determined additional full-length sequences from two clusters of imported EBOV infections into Mali, and we show that the nucleotide substitution rate (1.3 × 10–3 substitutions per site per year) is consistent with rates observed in Central African outbreaks. In addition, overall variation among all genotypes observed remains low. Thus, our data indicate that EBOV is not undergoing rapid evolution in humans during the current outbreak. This finding has important implications for outbreak response and public health decisions and should alleviate several previously raised concerns.

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