New study finds that Marburg, Ebola edit genetic material during infection

A study published this week in mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society of Microbiology, found that filoviruses such as Ebola edit genetic material upon infection.

Using a technique called deep sequencing, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Galveston National Laboratory and the J. Craig Venter Institute followed the life cycle of the Ebola and Marburg viruses by injecting them into a monkey and human cell line.

They found that virus proteins stuttered at specific locations during the deep sequence study. Extra nucleotides then were created, which formed genetic material that changed the new RNA created by the viruses. This is the first time such an activity has been noted in lab testing.

"Because of these messenger RNA modifications, Ebola and Marburg are potentially making proteins that we previously didn’t realize,” Christopher F. Basler, senior study author and professor of microbiology at Mount Sinai, said. 

Although the study was eye-opening, more investigation is needed. 

“The bottom line is we know these changes occur but we don’t yet know what it really means in the biology of the virus," Basler said. "There are many aspects of how the viruses replicate that aren’t yet understood, so we need a complete description of how they grow to develop new strategies used to treat the infections.”