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2-min read

Israeli Scientists Develop Genetic Test to Identify Cells that Protect from Zika Virus

Research has also shows 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.

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Updated:August 29, 2019, 11:26 AM IST
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Israeli Scientists Develop Genetic Test to Identify Cells that Protect from Zika Virus
The t-shirt reads 'Out Zika'. (Representative photo: Reuters)
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Following the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika fever in Brazil in 2015, the World Health Organization had, on 2016, issues a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern', warning that Zika would end up affecting most countries. Now, scientists 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 used a genetic screen to help identify genes that protect cells from Zika viral infection. According to the scientists, the development may one day lead to the development of a treatment for the Zika virus and other infections. Notably, the mosquito-borne disease, Zika is related to the dengue, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, and West Nile viruses.

Notably, the research, led by Dr Ella H Sklan of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine and was published in the Journal of Virology.

The Zika virus spreads through Aedes mosquito bites, causing fever, rash, muscle and joining pain. Research has also shows 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. In fact, Zika has also been linked to an increased risk of neurological conditions like Guillain-Barré syndrome, neuropathy and myelitis.

In the course of the research, 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 naturally occurring bacterial genome editing system that has been adapted to gene editing in mammalian cells.

According to researchers, it is based on Cas9, a bacterial enzyme, which can locate and modify specific locations along the human genome. A modification is created by genetically changing Cas9 in a way that enables the expression of specific genes in their original DNA locations, a statement issued by Tel Aviv University explained.

Speaking about the same, lead author of the study, DrSklan said that CRISPR activation can be used to identify genes protecting against viral infection, going on to add, "We used this adapted system to activate every gene in the genome in cultured cells. We then 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."

Dr Sklan further said that they then used next-generation sequencing and bioinformatic analysis to identify 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 went on to add that if one day the unknown mode of action can be mimicked, "it may one day serve as the basis for the development of a novel antiviral therapy to fight the Zika virus or related infections.”

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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