Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hitting snooze on the molecular clock: Rabies evolves slower in hibernating bats

21.05.2012
The rate at which the rabies virus evolves in bats may depend heavily upon the ecological traits of its hosts, according to researchers at the University of Georgia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium.
Their study, published May 17 in the journal PLoS Pathogens, found that the host's geographical location was the most accurate predictor of the viral rate of evolution. Rabies viruses in tropical and sub-tropical bat species evolved nearly four times faster than viral variants in bats in temperate regions.

"Species that are widely distributed can have different behaviors in different geographical areas," said Daniel Streicker, a postdoctoral associate in the UGA Odum School of Ecology and the study's leader. "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."

Understanding the relationship between host ecology and viral evolution rates could shed light on the transmission dynamics of other viruses, such as influenza, that occur across regions, infect multiple host species or whose transmission dynamics are impacted by anthropogenic change.

The team's findings could eventually help public health officials better predict when rabies virus transmission could happen in different environments and as environments change, but Streicker cautions that more research into the rabies virus genome and bats' overwintering ecology is needed.

"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," he 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."

Evolutionary biologists have long recognized that molecular evolution proceeds in a largely clock-like manner, with mutations accumulating at a fairly constant rate over time. This "molecular clock" allows for powerful inferences—from dating the origins of species to the origins of epidemics. However, the rate at which the clock ticks varies dramatically among species; much research has focused on what causes these differences.

For RNA viruses such as rabies, understanding the rate variability has practical implications, since faster evolution can enable viral emergence in new species or allow a virus to evade its host's immune defenses. However, nearly all past studies compared viruses of completely different families and were therefore limited to focusing on viral structural traits. Since few opportunities existed to study the evolution of similar viruses in different host species, the role of the host had been almost completely neglected.

Streicker set out to better understand the tempo of the evolution of rabies viruses in bats, and specifically what, if any, role the host species played.

To conduct the study, Streicker and his colleagues compiled a database of rabies virus genetic sequences from infected bats in the U.S. and South America, representing 21 different variants of the virus. They also collected information on the biology and ecology of the different bat species that served as viral hosts. They looked at the evolutionary history of the different bat species; their overwintering behavior (whether the bats hibernated, went through periods of torpor or remained active during the winter); their metabolic rates; and their migration habits (whether they engaged in long distance migration). They also classed the bats by climatic region and whether they were solitary or roosted in colonies.

Their analysis of this enormous database revealed extreme variability in the rate of evolution in different rabies viruses, comparable to the differences seen between viruses of entirely different families. The analysis also suggested that viral genetic traits were not chiefly responsible for this variation since rates seemed to shift freely throughout the ancestral history of the rabies virus as it jumped into new bat species.

"Earlier studies led to the conclusion that viral genomic traits are driving the evolution rate," Streicker said. "It turns out that's not the whole story. In this case, host biology plays an important role."

The trait that best correlated with the rate of viral evolution was not the host's evolutionary history. It was its climatic region, which affects the bats' behavior.

Rabies in tropical bats goes through more generations per year than in temperate bats, a mechanism also hypothesized to accelerate how quickly the molecular clock ticks in free-living tropical plants and animals. The rapid evolution in rabies viruses provided the researchers with an opportunity to examine one of the mechanisms thought to drive the differences in evolution and species diversity across latitudes from the poles to the tropics.

"This is just another example of how the fast pace of evolution in RNA viruses makes them exceptional tools for understanding simultaneously ecological and evolutionary processes," Streicker said.

The paper's coauthors were Philippe Lemey of KU Leuven and Andres Velasco-Villa and Charles E. Rupprecht of the CDC's Rabies Program. The research was supported by grants from UGA, the National Science Foundation and the European Research Council. For the study, "Rates of viral evolution are linked to host geography in bats," see http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1002720.

Daniel Streicker | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uga.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Closing the carbon loop
08.12.2016 | University of Pittsburgh

nachricht Newly discovered bacteria-binding protein in the intestine
08.12.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

Closing the carbon loop

08.12.2016 | Life Sciences

Applicability of dynamic facilitation theory to binary hard disk systems

08.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Scientists track chemical and structural evolution of catalytic nanoparticles in 3-D

08.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>