BRAIN defects caused by the deadly Zika virus could set human evolution back TWO MILLION YEARS, scientists have sensationally claimed. Genetic mutations triggered by the lethal pathogen threaten to become irrevocably established in human DNA, they warn. Severe deformities resulting from the virus slowly altering the genome will be passed on through generations to come. Rather than continuing to evolve, development of the species will regress as the microbe causes human brains to shrink over thousands of years. A report to be published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Outreach claims the Zika virus threatens a “a dramatic retrogression of human evolution”. It says the worst case scenario would be that viral DNA becomes encoded in the human genome giving rise to “a population of humans with diminished brain size and cognition”.
Author Professor Edward Steele, biologist and immunologist the CY O’Connor ERADE Village Foundation in Australia, said: “Whilst the Zika virus continues to grab headlines, its possible long-term impact on humanity appears to have escaped attention. The shocking claim comes as governments prepare for a global crisis as the disease spreads across the world. Almost 4,000 cases have been confirmed since the outbreak was identified last year in Brazil. Although its main route of transmission is via mosquitoes, several new cases this year have been linked to sexual contact. Scientists say this indicates the virus is evolving quickly to spread through the human race without the need of an insect vector. It points towards the microbe inserting information into the human genome in a similar way to HIV allowing it to spread like wildfire through the global population. Professor Steele added: “The Zika virus appears to have recently changed genetically so as to cause an increased incidence of microcephaly – diminished brain size – in babies born to mothers infected with the virus during pregnancy. “Microcephaly and the Zika virus now appear to show signs of being sexually transmissible, thus indicating that genes causing diminished brain volume and cognition may be gaining ingress into the human germ line.” He said the size of the human brain has doubled over the past 500,000 to two million years. Unless stopped, the Zika virus may be capable of integrating into the human genome and halting or even reversing this process. It means generations to come could suffer from incurable brain defects even if the current outbreak is eventually stopped. Professor Steele added: “The worst case scenario is that the Zika virus latches on to our evolving germ line and gives rise to a population of humans with diminished brain size and cognition. “The Zika epidemic, unless it is promptly checked, could thus turn back the clock two million years representing a dramatic retrogression of human evolution.”
Over the past year the Zika virus has spread like wildfire, taking hold across South and Central America and sparking warnings not to travel to affected regions. There is currently no vaccine or cure for the illness which causes headaches rash, fever and general symptoms of malaise. More recently it has been linked to severe brain deformities in children born to infected mothers with the virus passing from parent to baby. The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) has this week warned pregnant women not to travel to regions affected by the outbreak. In a statement it said: “Pregnant women in any trimester should consider postponing travel to the areas where Zika virus transmission is ongoing. “Pregnant women who do travel to one of these areas should talk to their doctor or other healthcare provider first and strictly follow steps to avoid mosquito bites during the trip. “Women trying to become pregnant should consult with their healthcare provider before traveling to these areas and strictly follow steps to prevent mosquito bites.” Prof Chandra Wickramasinghe, of the University of Buckingham, said the disease threatens a global catastrophe. He said microencephaly in new born babies as a result of infection was until recently unheard of suggesting the virus has already started to mutate. He said: “Before 2000 the Zika virus was in circulation, but did notcause microencephaly in new born babies – this suggests a major change in the virus. There are fears for pregnant women as defects could be passed on to furthur generations “The altered Zika virus, that is now spreading in many countries via a mosquito vector, has been found to affect fetuses in pregnant women, causing babies to be born with reduced brain and skull size. “It is also of interest to note that at least one case of transfer of the virus to gametes has been noted in an infected male. “The isolation of the virus in semen may be an indication of the soma-to-germline feedback process already occurring. “More are to be expected, much like the peculiar and unexpected seminal transmission mode of HIV when it exploded on the scene unexpectedly in 1981. “This epidemic, if it proceeds unchecked, will eventually lead to the emergence of a new human phenotype with reduced brain size and greatly diminished cognitive capacity ( via express.co.uk ). “It is to be hoped, however, that modern medical science will intervene in time to prevent such a tragic outcome.”