Possible Roles of New Mutations Shared by Asian and American Zika Viruses

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Originating in Africa, the Zika virus (ZIKV) has spread to Asia, Pacific Islands and now to the Americas and beyond. Since the first isolation in 1947, ZIKV strains have been sampled at various times in the last 69 years, but this history has not been reflected in studying the patterns of mutation accumulation in their genomes. Implementing the viral history, we show that the ZIKV ancestor appeared sometime in 1930–1945 and, at that point, its mutation rate was probably less than 0.2 × 10−3/nucleotide site/year and subsequently increased significantly in most of its descendants. Sustaining a high mutation rate of 4 × 10−3/site/year throughout its evolution, the Ancestral Asian strain, which was sampled from a mosquito in Malaysia, accumulated 13 mutations in the 3′-untranslated region of RNA stem-loops prior to 1963, seven of which generate more stable stem-loop structures and are likely to inhibit cellular antiviral activities, including immune and RNA interference (RNAi) pathways. The seven mutations have been maintained in all Asian and American strains and may be responsible for serious medical problems we are facing today and offer testable hypotheses to examine their roles in molecular interactions during brain development.

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