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Ebola, a former plant virus? & other musings....

cyril empig empig at hsc.usc.edu
Thu Apr 29 13:44:56 EST 1999

I think that Ebola was always dangerous to man, but it never got in contact 
with man to wreak havoc on him until he ran into it somewhere in Africa. 
Retroviruses are pretty smart suckers so it does not seem that logical that one 
that is not lethal to man would evolve into to something that is lethal. The 
former scenario allows the virus to replicate and spread while the latter cuts 
the spread of the virus. It is not beneficial to the virus to kill its host, so 
it would seem not beneficial for Ebola to evolve from a strain that allows the 
host live (thus allowing it to thrive) to a strain that kills its host (which 
curtails its ability to replicate).

Who has said that Ebola might have been a plant virus? Was this work published? 
Is that "kingdom-jump" been supported at all in literature? I would think it 
would be hard for this switch to occur. If this were true, just think about the 
myriad of viral diseases we would pick up from other animals alone! I would 
think that before we see a plant virus invade humans, that animal viruses would 
achieve the switch first. The physical makeup of plants and animals are too 
different, in order for Ebola to switch, it needs to run into the same or very 
similar virus receptor in humans, come across the same/very similar uncoating 
mechanism, integration mechanism, and gene expression mechanism, etc. The 
switch is just too gargantuan to imagine. I should know because I tried 
targeting a mouse retrovirus to infect human cells for gene therapy purposes 
and failed. And that's a animal to animal switch,  a mere genus to genus 
switch. That's why I can't imagine how a plant virus could switch to become an 
animal virus. It just doesn't make sense.

Finally, Paul Bates at UPENN is looking at generating antibodies against Ebola 
using a strip-down version of the virus and should be poised to identify the 
elusive Ebola receptor. For a more scientific look at Ebola, check out PubMed 
in the NCBI site and search for Ebola work that has been peer-reviewed for 
publication in the leading journals such as Science, Nature and PNAS.


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