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Crop Biotech Update

Scientists Genetically Engineer First Zika Virus Clone

May 18, 2016

A multidisciplinary research team from The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) has genetically engineered a clone of the Zika virus strain, a first in the world development that could expedite Zika research, including vaccine and therapeutics development.

The researchers first constructed the Zika virus clone. Five fragments spanning the complete viral genome were individually cloned and assembled into the full-length clone of the Zika virus. They then used the UTMB-developed Zika mouse model to demonstrate that the cloned virus infected the mice and gave them neurological disease.

The team fed Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with human blood infected with either the parental Zika virus or the "man-made" Zika virus, and found that the number of infected mosquitoes was similar. This confirms that the cloned virus is highly infectious for A. aegypti mosquitoes.

The research team also engineered a luciferase reporter Zika virus. Luciferase is the chemical that gives fireflies their signature glow. The "glowing" reporter virus could be used for antiviral drug screening. In addition, the reporter signal could be used to track Zika virus infection in mosquitoes and small animal models.

For more details, read the news release at the UTMB website.