Indian scientist's discovery crucial for designing Zika antivirals

rajanish-giri Dr. Rajnish Giri | Facebook

An Indian scientist has identified crucial regions within the protein of the Zika virus, which could help understand viral pathogenesis at the molecular level.

The dreaded Zika virus, known to cause high fatality and deformities of the foetus when a pregnant mother is infected, has confounded scientists. The virus has spread globally in recent years, and cases are now popping up even in India.

Dr Rajanish Giri at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi, has used the branch of computational research and biophysical studies, and is seeking to unravel the structure and action of the virus. He is assisted by Vladimir Uversky from the University of South Florida and research scholar Pushpendra Mani Mishra.

While their research is ongoing, they made a breakthrough in identifying the crucial regions within the protein molecule of the virus. Their work has recently been published in the Journal of Molecular Biology. “The research is fundamental in nature and very important in terms of understanding, exploring and unravelling the complex mechanism of viral pathogenesis,” Giri said.

Viruses inhabit a strange zone between living and non-living, since they need a host to replicate. A virus contains a shell of protein within which is the single stranded Ribose nucleic acid (RNA). As the Zika virus replicates in the human host, it disrupts the nerve cells in the host. Foetuses are specially vulnerable as nerve cells are extensive during embryogeny. It causes problems like miscarriages, stillbirth and deformities like small brains or microcephaly.

Understanding the structure of the virus is fundamental to designing antivirals. Previously, this was a very time-consuming and complex process as the virus had to be grown in the laboratory. Bioinformatics is a new branch of science that uses the database of viral proteins and genes and does rapid computational analyses.

The Zika virus spreads through mosquito bites and can also spread through infected blood transfusions and sexual contact.