Viruses up their game in arms race with immune system

phys.org | 8/14/2017 | Staff
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In a classic example of the evolutionary arms race between a host and a pathogen, the myxoma virus—introduced to control the rabbit population in Australia in 1950—has developed a novel and deadly ability to suppress the immune response of its host rabbits. New research shows that viruses collected in the 1990s are much more effective at shutting down the immune systems of rabbits that have never been exposed to the virus than are viruses from the 1950s.

"When a host develops resistance to a virus, the virus will often evolve ways to evade the host's immune response," said Andrew Read, Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Entomology and Eberly Professor of Biotechnology at Penn State and an author of the study. "Instead of hiding from the rabbit's immune response, the myxoma virus has evolved ways to directly suppress it, leading to the development of a virus that is even more deadly to non-resistant rabbits."

Paper - Study - Week - August - Proceedings

A paper describing the new study appears the week of August 14, 2017, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The research suggests that efforts to artificially increase resistance to a virus through selective breeding, genetic engineering, or immunization—unless they completely prevent transmission of the virus—could accelerate the arms race, producing even more virulent viruses.

Wild European rabbits were introduced to Australia in the 19th century and quickly spread, wreaking havoc on the land and devastating crops. The myxoma virus was initially extremely effective in reducing the population of these invaders. The strain of virus that was introduced developed in a different species of rabbit in South America. Scientists at the time were interested in understanding how the virus would evolve in this new, European, host.

System - Example - Arms - Race - Peter

"This system has been studied since the 1950s as a classic example of an evolutionary arms race," said Peter Kerr of...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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