New Ebola-like virus discovered in bats

A Rousettus bat

While analysing the diversity of filoviruses in Rousettus bats in China, Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) researchers, in collaboration with Chinese scientists, discovered, identified and characterised a new genus of the virus in one of the bats. Bat-borne viruses pose a serious threat to human and animal health, and filoviruses, particularly the Ebola and Marburg viruses, are notoriously pathogenic and can affect many organs and damage blood vessels, causing severe and often fatal fever diseases in humans.

“Studying the genetic diversity and geographic distribution of bat-borne filoviruses is very important for risk assessment and outbreak prevention as this type of infectious disease can affect the general public without warning with devastating consequences,” said Professor Wang Lin-Fa, Director of the Emerging Infectious Diseases Signature Research Programme at Duke-NUS, and a senior author of the study.

The virus was named the Měnglà virus, after Měnglà County in China’s Yunnam Province where it was discovered. The team detected it from a bat sample and proceeded to conduct sequencing and functional characterisation studies on it. They discovered that the Měnglà virus represents a new genus — Dianlovirus — within the filovirus group and is genetically distinct, sharing only 34 to 54 per cent of its genetic sequence with other known filoviruses. It is also found in different geographic locations from other filoviruses. After more testing, the team discovered that the Měnglà virus, like other filoviruses, poses a potential risk of interspecies transmission.

“With globalisation, it is important to identify and assess the risk of potential infectious disease outbreaks and from it develop effective control strategies and treatments,” commented Duke-NUS Senior Vice Dean (Research) Professor Patrick Casey.

The results of this study were published in the journal Nature Microbiology on 8 January.