Brazilian scientists map Zika virus genome

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Isabela Vieira reports from Agência Brasil*

Scientists from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) were able to obtain the genome sequence of the Zika virus and found more evidence that the disease is in fact related to the incidence of microcephaly, which cause babies to be born with an undeveloped skull, leading to neurological damage which impairs cognition.

The announcement comes from the Molecular Virology Laboratory, which analyzed the virus found in the amniotic fluid of pregnant women in Campina Grande, Paraíba. The finding means they were able to identify the full order of the virus's genetic data, a significant step towards understanding how Zika behaves in the human body and how to develop a vaccine as well as new tests.

“What we know now may help us understand why the virus has chosen children's brain cells over those of adults—the pregnant women,” explained Professor Renato Santana, one of the researchers involved.

The scientists at the laboratory also managed to isolate the virus in the brains of fetuses with microcephaly who died in Paraíba, right after birth.

The Health Ministry believes most of women who gave birth to babies diagnosed with “microcephaly and/or changes in the central nervous system suggesting congenital infection” had the virus. The scientists are also considering the possibility that the Zika virus may be capable of causing other types of malformation.

*TV Brasil reporter Thais Araújo contributed to this article

Translated by Fabrício Ferreira

Edited by: Beto Coura / Olga Bardawil