SPECIFIC mutations of the monkeypox virus have been investigated by a team of researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia, USA, to understand the contributions to its continued nature of infectiousness. With monkeypox affecting over 77,000 people in over 100 countries worldwide, this study aimed to uncover how the mutating virus evades antiviral drugs and vaccines, and could assist in the development of new drugs, thus increasing their effectiveness in reducing the symptoms and the spread of the virus.
Kamlendra Singh, professor at the University of Missouri College Veterinary Medicine, alongside a team of researchers, analysed the DNA sequences of over 200 strains of the monkeypox virus over several decades from 1965, the 2000s, and 2022, when the virus re-emerged.
“Our focus is on looking at the specific genes involved in copying the virus genome, and monkeypox is a huge virus with approximately 200,000 DNA bases in the genome,” said Singh. “The DNA genome for monkeypox is converted into nearly 200 proteins, so it comes with all the ‘armour’ it needs to replicate, divide and continue to infect others. Viruses will make billions of copies of itself and only the fittest will survive, as the mutations help them adapt and continue to spread.”
By conducting the temporal evaluation, the researchers obtained data that demonstrated how the virus had accumulated mutations over time. The results showed that the virus mutations cumulated specifically where the antibodies from the vaccines and drugs were supposed to bind. It was evident that the monkeypox virus was evolving and growing smarter by avoiding the targeted drugs and evading the antibodies from the immune response of the vaccines, which meant that it continued to spread to more people.
“These factors are surely contributing to the virus’ increased infectivity. This work is important because the first step toward solving a problem is identifying where the problem is specifically occurring in the first place, and it is a team effort,” concluded Singh.