Monkeypox has undergone ‘accelerated evolution’, mutating at an unprecedented rate

(ORDO NEWS) — The ongoing outbreak of monkeypox is unprecedented.

The monkeypox virus (MPXV) has recently mutated much faster than scientists expected, potentially explaining the outbreak in parts of the world where the virus was not normally found.

A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine shows that MPXV has moved to “accelerated evolution” at a rate that has surprised some scientists.

Researchers at the Dutor Ricardo Jorge National Institute of Health in Portugal studied the DNA of the current strain of MPXV, which is spreading around the world.

The team explains that the current strain is closely related to the strain responsible for the 2018-19 outbreak in Nigeria.

However, since then it has undergone 50 mutations. She also underwent even more mutations during a recent outbreak through human-to-human transmission, giving her another 15 minor variants.

To date, at least 4,119 cases of monkeypox have been reported, mostly in Europe and North America. Given that the virus does not usually spread far beyond West and Central Africa, where it is endemic and can be transmitted from infected rodents, the outbreak caught many experts by surprise.

As the name suggests, monkeypox virus is closely related to the viruses that cause smallpox (variola viruses).

The genetic “instructions” used by these viruses to make copies of themselves are in the form of double-stranded DNA, as we and other animals and plants have. However, this is not like other viruses, such as coronaviruses, which use single-stranded RNA.

Small RNA viruses mutate relatively quickly (if COVID-19 has taught us anything about RNA viruses, it’s that they can spawn variants at a very high rate). On the other hand, larger DNA viruses mutate relatively slowly, which partly explains why these recent results are so unexpected.

“This report confirms the prevailing hypothesis of the current outbreak: a single imported case, exacerbated by one or more cases of superspreading,” said Dr Hugh Adler, Department of Clinical Sciences at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who was not directly involved in the new study.

“The authors describe an unexpectedly large number of mutations in the virus, but their effect on disease severity or transmissibility is unclear.

We have not identified any change in clinical disease severity in patients diagnosed during the current outbreak,” he continued.

“Now that it has caused an outbreak in high-income countries, we are making amazing discoveries in the biology of monkeypox, but as always, if the world community applied the same scientific resources to monkeypox outbreaks in Africa, we could already be a more powerful knowledge base.”

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