Sunday, 20 May 2012

Rabies Snoozes While Bats Hibernate

How quickly deadly viruses evolve depends on many factors, new research suggests. For instance, rabies evolves slower while bats are hibernating. This means it also varies by location, since bats in the tropics don't hibernate.

Rabies viruses in tropical and sub-tropical bat species evolved nearly four times faster than those in bats in temperate regions.

"Species that are widely distributed can have different behaviors in different geographical areas," study researcher Daniel Streicker, of the University of Georgia, said in a statement. "Bats in the tropics are active year-round, so more rabies virus transmission events occur per year. Viruses in hibernating bats, on the other hand, might lose up to six months' worth of opportunities for transmission."

Viral evolution
Understanding the relationship between host ecology and viral evolution rates could reveal details about other viruses, such as influenza, that occur across regions, infect multiple host species or whose transmission dynamics are impacted by humans.

"If viral evolution is faster, it could potentially lead to greater genetic diversity in crucial parts of the viral genome that allow it to shift hosts," Streicker said. "For rabies, we don't yet know what those are, so identifying them will be key. Similarly, before understanding whether climate change will speed viral evolution, we need a better idea of how environmental changes will influence host ecology and behavior."

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