The Ebola virus causes hemorrhagic fever and during outbreaks kills 50 - 90 percent of its human victims. Due to its virulent nature, and lack of vaccines or treatments, scientists studying the agent have had to work under stringent biocontainment protocols, limiting research to a few highly specialized labs and hampering the ability to develop countermeasures.
The Ebola virus depends on host cells to make it a successful pathogen. The virus's VP30 gene makes a protein that enables it to replicate in host cells and without the protein, the virus cannot grow. A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, led by Yoshiro Kawaoka of the School of Veterinary Medicine, altered the virus by removing the VP30 gene.
"We made cells that express the VP30 protein and the virus can grow in those cells because the missing protein is provided by the cell," explains Kawaoka. With the exception that it is unable to grow in anything but cells engineered to express the VP30 protein, the virus is identical to the pathogen found in the wild, making it ideal for vaccine development and screening for antiviral compounds.