Using Computational Biology to Study the Ebola Virus

Dr. Pardis Sabeti, an Associate Professor at the Center for Systems Biology at Harvard University, and her research team have used advanced genomic sequencing technology to identify a single point of infection in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Their research also revealed how the Ebola virus has been transmitted and how the genetic code of the virus is changing over time to adapt to human hosts.


The team sequenced Ebola virus genomes from patients in Sierra Leone and observed a rapid accumulation of genetic variation using computational methods that they developed in the lab. These methods identify variants that have recently emerged and spread through populations. Using this technology, the researchers pinpointed a single late 2013 introduction from an unspecified animal reservoir into humans. Their study showed that the strain responsible for the West African outbreak separated from a closely related strain found in Central Africa as early as 2004, indicating movement from Central to West Africa over the span of a decade.


For more information about this research, see the full article in Science Genomic surveillance elucidates Ebola virus origin and transmission and the NIH press release.

A link to Dr. Sabeti’s lab can be found here