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Virus can adapt via newly discovered path of evolution (Image 2)

Researchers and co-authors of a recent study

University of California, San Diego, researchers and co-authors of a recent study that found a virus can adapt through a newly discovered path of evolution include, from left, undergraduate Sarah Medina, research volunteer Victor Li, Assistant Professor Justin Meyer and Assistant Teaching Professor Katherine Petrie. [Image 2 of 2 related images. Back to Image 1.]

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Researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UC-San Diego), and colleagues have discovered evidence of a new path of evolution and with it a deeper understanding of how quickly organisms such as viruses can adapt to their environment.

UC-San Diego biologists conducted a series of experiments with a bacterial virus and found that it could infect "normal" hosts, as expected, but also -- through a process previously unseen in evolution -- acquired an ability to infect new host targets. The researchers say their findings, which address longstanding mysteries of how genes acquire new functions and how mutations arise to ease transmission from one host to another, could be applied to investigations of viral diseases such as Zika, Ebola and bird flu.

"This research shows us that viruses are much more adaptable than previously anticipated," said Justin Meyer, a UC San Diego biological sciences assistant professor and senior author of a published paper about the research. "By learning how viruses achieve evolutionary flexibility, we have new insight into how to set up road blocks to stop the emergence of new diseases."

This research was funded in part by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (grant DGE 14-24871).

To learn more about this research, see the NSF News From the Field story Virus found to adapt through newly discovered path of evolution. (Date image taken: 2018; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: Aug. 10, 2018)

Credit: University of California, San Diego

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