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Cambridge University Science Magazine
Recent analysis shows that there are currently three variants of the virus each of which are simultaneously circulating in Guinea, the outbreak’s epicentre. Two of these variants share considerable similarity to strains circulating in neighbouring Sierra Leone, indicative of several instances of reintroduction from Sierra Leone to Guinea. This data is not only useful for tracking the pathway of disease spread but is vital for vaccine optimisation. The reason being that the mutations characterising each variant occur primarily in the VP35 protein which is a glycoprotein located in the membrane surrounding the virus.

This is of great importance as such proteins are key in the recognition of the virus by the body’s immune system and if they mutate, existing immunity may become ineffective. Thus vaccines must be adapted to account for these changes to ensure continued vaccine efficacy. These efforts amongst others have been key in helping tackle Ebola and preventing further spread which has resulted in the World Health Organisation declaring the number of cases to be the lowest since May 2014. It is hoped that with continued efforts, the outbreak can be brought under control.

DOI: 10.1038/nature14612

Written by Anthony Bridgen.