Stephanie J. Spielman, Austin G. Meyer, Claus O. Wilke
Gire et al. (Science 345:1369–1372, 2014) analyzed 81 complete genomes sampled from the 2014 Zaire ebolavirus (EBOV) outbreak and claimed that the virus is evolving far more rapidly in the current outbreak than it has been between previous outbreaks. This assertion has received widespread attention, and many have perceived Gire et al. (2014)’s results as implying rapid adaptation of EBOV to humans during the current outbreak. Here, we show that, on the contrary, sequence divergence in EBOV is rather limited, and that the currently available data contain no signal of rapid evolution or adaptation to humans. Gire et al.’s findings resulted from an incorrect application of a molecular-clock model to a population of sequences with minimal divergence and segregating polymorphisms. Our results highlight how indiscriminate use of off-the-shelf analysis techniques may result in highly-publicized, misleading statements about an ongoing public health crisis.