An international team of scientists has sequenced the RNA of 99 samples of the Ebola virus, collected during the outbreak's early days in Sierra Leone.
Samples were collected from 78 patients, with some giving twice so researchers could see how the virus mutates in a person. "The genome sequence of a virus is the blueprint on which that virus is built," Pardis Sabeti, a Harvard geneticist who helped oversee the study, told the Los Angeles Times. "Diagnostics are built on knowing that sequence; vaccines are also built using genome sequences. And if you want to build those as best you can, you want to know what the virus looks like today."
Scientists are taking a close look at the sequence, searching for clues that could lead them to effective vaccines or drugs. They've discovered that the Ebola virus that has killed more than 1,500 people originated in Guinea, with one transmission from an animal to a human. The sequencing started in early June, and by mid-June the results were available to scientists. "We want to enable everyone in the scientific community to look at the genetic sequences at once and crowd-source a solution," Sabeti said.
It's personal now for the researchers, as five of the study's co-authors in Sierra Leone have died of Ebola since participating in the research. "It's been an emotional time for us," said Stephen Gire, a research scientist and co-leader of the study. "It makes us want to work harder to get this information out there."
The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science.