Scientists at the Kenema Government Hospital positively tested the first Sierra Leonean Ebola patients in May. Since then, that same lab has tracked rapid mutations in 78 more sickened people. The scientists’ work has culminated in a new paper containing the most genetic information on the virus ever to be published, but six of the original co-authors are no longer alive.
In a video published on Nature.com, the remaining authors dedicate their work to their lost colleagues, who died while treating the sick and pursuing science to save other patients. On the paper itself, the deceased who contracted Ebola–Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, head nurse Mbalu Fonnie, nurses Alice Kovoma, Alex Moigbo, and lab technician Mohamed Fullah–are marked by double crosses. Sidiki Saffa, another co-author and lab technician, also died of a stroke while the paper was still in press, reports Science.
By tracking the genetics of the mutating virus, researchers in Sierra Leone and Cambridge, Massachusetts, were able to deduct how the virus spread from 12 people present at a funeral that took place in Guinea. The sequencing also suggests that the current outbreak arose from contact between one person and an animal.
“We captured 94% of patients diagnosed in Sierra Leone the first three weeks of the infection,” explains co-author Pardis Sabeti, a computational geneticist at Harvard University, whose lab was sequencing the Lassa fever virus when Ebola broke out, in the video. “The type of genome sequencing we do informs whether or not the drugs, the vaccines, the diagnostics that we’re using are going to be viable as the virus continues to mutate and change.”