Abayomi S Olabode, Xiaowei Jiang, David L Robertson, Simon C Lovell
The Ebola epidemic is having a devastating impact in West Africa. Sequencing of Ebola viruses from infected individuals has revealed extensive genetic variation, leading to speculation that the virus may be adapting to the human host and accounting for the scale of the 2014 outbreak. We show that so far there is no evidence for adaptation of EBOV to humans. We analyze the putatively functional changes associated with the current and previous Ebola outbreaks, and find no significant molecular changes. Observed amino acid replacements have minimal effect on protein structure, being neither stabilizing nor destabilizing. Replacements are not found in regions of the proteins associated with known functions and tend to occur in disordered regions. This observation indicates that the difference between the current and previous outbreaks is not due to the observed evolutionary change of the virus. Instead, epidemiological factors must be responsible for the unprecedented spread of EBOV.