Genomic characterization and phylogenetic analysis of Zika virus circulating in the Americas
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The rapid spread and potential link with birth defects have made Zika virus (ZIKV) a global public health problem. The virus was discovered 70years ago, yet the knowledge about its genomic structure and the genetic variations associated with current ZIKV explosive epidemics remains not fully understood. In this review, the genome organization, especially conserved terminal structures of ZIKV genome were characterized and compared with other mosquito-borne flaviviruses. It is suggested that major viral proteins of ZIKV share high structural and functional similarity with other known flaviviruses as shown by sequence comparison and prediction of functional motifs in viral proteins. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that all ZIKV strains circulating in the America form a unique clade within the Asian lineage. Furthermore, we identified a series of conserved amino acid residues that differentiate the Asian strains including the current circulating American strains from the ancient African strains. Overall, our findings provide an overview of ZIKV genome characterization and evolutionary dynamics in the Americas and point out critical clues for future virological and epidemiological studies.