Researchers in Glasgow have made a breakthrough in combating the dreaded Zika virus - including how it acts to suppress the immune systems of sufferers.
The World Health Organisation has declared the virus’s link to microcephaly found in babies born to infected mothers a public health emergency, following an outbreak which began in Brazil.
Scientists have now sequenced the full-length genome of the virus from a patient in Brazil and said the information could be useful in the search for a vaccine.
They found molecules derived from the virus inhibits an important part of the host’s immune system, which could be key to understanding how the virus causes disease.
Dr Alain Kohl, of the Medical Research Council-University of Glasgow centre for virus research, said: “This information is important for understanding the pathogenesis of Zika virus infection but may also be useful for the design of attenuated viruses for vaccine studies in the future.”
Colleague Dr Claire Donald said: “This work shows that Zika virus acts in a way that is comparable in some respect to what we know about host immune response antagonism for related viruses such as dengue and West Nile viruses.”
She said the genetic research on Zika may enable scientists to “pinpoint potential outbreaks of concern in the future”.
The virus is mainly transmitted by mosquitoes and the ongoing epidemic - which originated in Bahia, Brazil, last year - has so far resulted in more than 1.5 million suspected cases.
Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson said: “This groundbreaking research gives us a far greater understanding of the Zika virus and will help protect millions of people in the developing world from the devastating effects of this disease.”
The study, published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, was led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with scientists from Brazil, the Czech Republic, the US and Senegal.