Friday, January 27, 2012
It seems viruses may be better at adapting to their host environments than previously thought.
A new study released Friday by the Michigan State University finds that viruses may be evolving and adapting more quickly than initially thought.
Scientists leading the study announced they have for the first time evidence of how the virus called “Lambda” evolved to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took four mutations to accomplish.
It is the first time that the researchers have described a way through which viruses evolved a novel way to infect people, which could reveal better means of protecting against some of the world’s most notorious viruses. Researchers said that they studied a virus which is known as a lambda. It infects the gut bacterium Escherichia coli.
Michigan State University scientists described how viruses evolved a new way of infecting cells in little more than two weeks, far sooner than initially thought. In a series of experiments, the bacteria-infecting viruses repeatedly acquired the ability to attack their host bacteria through a different “doorway,” or receptor on the bacteria’s cellular membrane, according to Justin Meyer, the lead researcher and a graduate student...
“We were surprised at first to see Lambda evolve this new function, this ability to attack and enter the cell through a new receptor – and it happened so fast,” the Michigan State University graduate student said in a statement. “But when we re-ran the evolution experiment, we saw the same thing happen over and over.”
...Even though bird flu is a mere five mutations away from becoming transmissible between humans, it is highly unlikely the virus could naturally obtain all of the beneficial mutations all at once. However, it might evolve sequentially, gaining benefits one-by-one, if conditions are favorable at each step, say researchers...