A mutation may explain the sudden rise in birth defects from Zika | Science News

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A mutation may explain the sudden rise in birth defects from Zika

One small change in a protein in 2013 could have led to surge in microcephaly

By
2:00pm, September 28, 2017
baby with microcephaly

MICROCEPHALY MUTATION Scientists may finally understand why the Zika virus was suddenly able to cause microcephaly, as seen in this child in Salvador, Brazil. The virus picked up a mutation in 2013 that makes it more aggressive at killing brain cells.

A single genetic mutation made the Zika virus far more dangerous by enhancing its ability to kill nerve cells in developing brains, a new study suggests.

The small change — which tweaks just one amino acid in a protein that helps Zika exit cells — may cause microcephaly, researchers report September 28 in Science. The mutation arose around May 2013, shortly before a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia, the researchers calculate.

Zika virus was discovered decades ago but wasn’t associated with microcephaly — a birth defect characterized by a small head and brain — until the 2015–2016 outbreak in Brazil. Women who had contracted the virus while pregnant started giving birth to babies with the condition at higher-than-usual rates (SN: 4/2/16, p. 26

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