Genetic clues to spread of Ebola


By Helen Briggs


Scientists have tracked the spread of Ebola in West Africa, revealing genetic clues to the course of the outbreak.

Genetic analysis of patient samples suggests the virus spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone at a single funeral.

The virus is mutating and must be contained rapidly, warn African and US experts. But they say there is no evidence the virus is changing its behaviour.

The current outbreak is the largest ever, with more than 3,000 cases.

The number of cases could exceed 20,000 before the outbreak is stemmed, according to the World Health Organization.


  1. Great work; no need to pray.

    But it strikes me as a tad ironic that it spread from the funeral of a traditional healer.

    It’s stating the obvious to say that it’s mutating, but isn’t it a contradiction in terms therefore to say that it’s not changing its behaviour?

    I suppose that it’s mutating in order to continue doing the same thing; that which comes naturally to it.

    I really don’t know, but I’m confident that someone here will tell me.

    • “I suppose that it’s mutating in order to continue doing the same thing”

      I am not an expert in evolution but as I understand it there is no advance plan. Things don’t mutate in order to do something.

      Mutation is coincidental and it’s results unpredictable. Any favourable advantage for the virus when mutated will flourish.

      I think?

      • “… in order to…” is just shorthand to avoid more long-winded expressions. This is often misunderstood or misrepresented by creationists et al, but it’s so convenient to use expressions like this it’s hard to stop.
        In the case of giraffes we might lazily say their necks grew longer in order to reach the foliage on top branches. This is just shorthand for saying that the proto-giraffes in a given population with longer necks were able to reach more foliage and have better survival chances, thus the genes for longer necks (and supporting infrastructure) were passed on. (And this is of course just shorthand for more detailed explanations.)
        Ebola’s mutations, as Stafford Gordon implies, may not bring new features (at the macro level), so it appears after the fact as if “it’s mutating in order to continue doing the same thing”. Under the covers, perhaps they alter the “profile” the virus presents to the host’s immune system; or they may just be neutral mutations (random noise with no functional effect).

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