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Scientists May Soon Find Genetic Antiviral Therapy for Deadly Zika Virus

A research team at Tel Aviv University (TAU) has developed a genetic screen to identify genes that shield us from infection. 


Updated:September 1, 2019, 7:50 PM IST
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Scientists May Soon Find Genetic Antiviral Therapy for Deadly Zika Virus
(File Photo/ Reuters) (Representative image)

First discovered in monkeys in Uganda in 1947, the Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus which was later identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Since then, the outbreak of Zika virus has been recorded in Africa, North and South America, Asia and the Pacific.

Now, scientists have found a way to screen cells that protect us from Zika virus. A research team at Tel Aviv University (TAU), in collaboration with the French National Center for Scientific Research, Friedrich Schiller University in Germany and the University of Southern California have developed a genetic screen to identify genes that shield us from infection, Mashable India reported.  

scientists used a genome-scale CRISPR activation screen which was based on a modification of the CRISPR-Cas9 gene-editing technique. The CRISPR-Cas9 is a natural bacterial genome editing system designed to edit genes in mammalian cells. It is possible to locate and modify specific spots along the human genome, using Cas9, a bacterial enzyme, according to a study published in a journal of Virology.

“We infected the cells with the Zika virus. While most cells die following the infection, some survived due to the over-expression of some protective genes,” Mashable India quoted lead author of the study Dr Sklan saying.

These protective cells were then sequenced and analyzed for identifying a number of genes that allowed survival and focused on one called IFI6. Notably, IFI6 showed high levels of protection against the Zika virus both by protecting the cells from infection and by preventing cell death.

Dr Sklan further added that one day a simple antiviral therapy could be developed using this technique to fight Zika virus and related infections.

Research has also found that Zika is linked to microcephaly, a condition in which a baby is born with an abnormally small head and brain as well as other neurological issues like Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathy and myelitis.

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