Multiscale analysis for patterns of Zika virus genotype emergence, spread, and consequence

Monica K. Borucki, Nicole M. Collette, Lark L. Coffey, Koen K.A. Van Rompay, Mona H. Hwang, James B. Thissen, Jonathan E. Allen, Adam T. Zemla

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The question of how Zika virus (ZIKV) changed from a seemingly mild virus to a human pathogen capable of microcephaly and sexual transmission remains unanswered. The unexpected emergence of ZIKV's pathogenicity and capacity for sexual transmission may be due to genetic changes, and future changes in phenotype may continue to occur as the virus expands its geographic range. Alternatively, the sheer size of the 2015-16 epidemic may have brought attention to a pre-existing virulent ZIKV phenotype in a highly susceptible population. Thus, it is important to identify patterns of genetic change that may yield a better understanding of ZIKV emergence and evolution. However, because ZIKV has an RNA genome and a polymerase incapable of proofreading, it undergoes rapid mutation which makes it difficult to identify combinations of mutations associated with viral emergence. As next generation sequencing technology has allowed whole genome consensus and variant sequence data to be generated for numerous virus samples, the task of analyzing these genomes for patterns of mutation has become more complex. However, understanding which combinations of mutations spread widely and become established in new geographic regions versus those that disappear relatively quickly is essential for defining the trajectory of an ongoing epidemic. In this study, multiscale analysis of the wealth of genomic data generated over the course of the epidemic combined with in vivo laboratory data allowed trends in mutations and outbreak trajectory to be assessed. Mutations were detected throughout the genome via deep sequencing, and many variants appeared in multiple samples and in some cases become consensus. Similarly, amino acids that were previously consensus in pre-outbreak samples were detected as low frequency variants in epidemic strains. Protein structural models indicate that most of the mutations associated with the epidemic transmission occur on the exposed surface of viral proteins. At the macroscale level, consensus data was organized into large and interactive databases to allow the spread of individual mutations and combinations of mutations to be visualized and assessed for temporal and geographical patterns. Thus, the use of multiscale modeling for identifying mutations or combinations of mutations that impact epidemic transmission and phenotypic impact can aid the formation of hypotheses which can then be tested using reverse genetics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere0225699
JournalPloS one
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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