Ebola Mutation Rate Quibble

A study suggests that the virus may not be evolving as quickly as a previous group estimated.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst
Mar 27, 2015

FLICKR, CDC GLOBALThe Ebola virus still circulating in West Africa may not be the super-mutator that some researchers have thought. According to a study published this week (March 26) in Science, the virus is evolving at a rate typically seen in animals—about half as fast as estimated by a study last year.

“It hasn’t become increasingly lethal or increasingly virulent,” coauthor David Safronetz, a staff scientist for the Laboratory of Virology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told The New York Times. “The virus—it’s doing what it’s always done.”

“This is some good news for the development of interventions,” NIAID Director Anthony Fauci told NPR’s Goats and Soda. “The data also indicate it’s quite unlikely the virus will mutate and change its way of transmission.”

Last August, Pardis Sabeti of Harvard University and the Broad Institute, and her colleagues sequenced the...

In the new study, Safronetz and his colleagues found that, based on two small clusters of Ebola cases in Mali, the virus was changing at a rate about half of that estimated by Sabeti’s team, on par with the known mutation rate of Ebola in its animal reservoir. But some emphasize that the difference between the two estimates may simply be attributed to technical details of the models used.

“It is simplistic to think that these minor differences in rate estimates will translate into radically different evolutionary trajectories,” University of Sydney evolutionary biologist Edward Holmes told Nature.