© Credit: Frederick A. Murphy, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of the Ebola virus.
A new study is helping to rewrite Ebola's family history. The research shows that filoviruses - a family to which Ebola and its similarly lethal relative, Marburg, belong - are at least 16-23 million years old.
Filoviruses likely existed in the Miocene Epoch, and at that time, the evolutionary lines leading to Ebola and Marburg had already diverged, the study concludes.
The research was published in the journal PeerJ
in September. It adds to scientists' developing knowledge about known filoviruses, which experts once believed came into being some 10,000 years ago, coinciding with the rise of agriculture. The new study pushes back the family's age to the time when great apes arose.
"Filoviruses are far more ancient than previously thought," says lead researcher Derek Taylor, PhD, a University at Buffalo professor of biological sciences
. "These things have been interacting with mammals for a long time, several million years."
According to the PeerJ article, knowing more about Ebola and Marburg's comparative evolution could "affect design of vaccines and programs that identify emerging pathogens."
The research does not address the age of the modern-day Ebolavirus. Instead, it shows that Ebola and Marburg are each members of ancient evolutionary lines, and that these two viruses last shared a common ancestor sometime prior to 16-23 million years ago.