US scientists clone Zika virus for the first time!

The new Zika clone, together with mosquito infection models and the UTMB-developed Zika mouse model, represent a major advance towards deciphering why the virus is tied to serious diseases.

Last Updated: May 18, 2016, 10:45 AM IST

Zee Media Bureau

New Delhi: Researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have cloned the Zika virus, a first in the world and a move that could fast track a vaccine against the deadly disease.

"The new Zika clone, together with mosquito infection models and the UTMB-developed Zika mouse model, represent a major advance towards deciphering why the virus is tied to serious diseases," said lead author Pei-Yong Shi, UTMB endowed professor. "The new clone is also a critical step in developing a vaccine and antiviral drug against Zika."

In the tests, scientists geentically engineered the infectious cDNA clone, allowing them to make Zika virus from test tube and cells on petri dishes.

The researchers then used the UTMB-developed Zika mouse model to demonstrate that the cloned virus infected the mice and gave them neurological disease.

Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes. Symptoms of Zika virus include mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache, normally last for 2-7 days.

The human-made Zika virus is a replica of the strain that is spreading across the Americas and has been linked to microcephaly in newborn babies.

The team fed Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with human blood infected with either the parental Zika virus or the "human-made" Zika virus and found that the number of infected mosquitoes was similar.

Their findings confirm that the cloned virus is highly infectious for Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. In addition, the results demonstrated that Aedes aegypti might be a good mosquito vector for Zika virus transmission.

Furthermore, the team engineered a luciferase reporter Zika virus. Luciferase is the chemical in fireflies that gives them their signature glow. The "glowing" reporter virus could be used for antiviral drug screening. In addition, the reporter signal could be used to track Zika virus infection in mosquitoes and small animal models.

So far, there is no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika.

Researchers hope their cloned virus will help achieve safe drugs and vaccines against the disease.

Their findings have been published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.