Claflin Researchers Present Zika Virus Study at Annual American Society of Microbiology Conference

Jun 24, 2016
Dr. Omar Bagasra Biology professor at Claflin UniversityDr. Omar Bagasra, a biology professor at Claflin University and director of the South Carolina Center for Biotechnology, led a group of faculty and graduate student researchers in the investigation of the mechanisms by which Zika virus causes various neurological diseases.

Zika virus is primarily spread to people through the bite of some Aedes mosquitoes. Scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded the virus causes microcephaly -- a rare neurological condition in which an infant's head is significantly smaller than the heads of other typical children of the same age and sex. Cases of babies born with small head size in the Zika virus infected areas of Brazil created fear at a global scale.

The Claflin team’s research was entitled Infectivity of Immature Neurons to Zika Virus: A Link to Congenital Zika Syndrome. Dr. Bagasra presented the results of the study on June 19 at the American Society of Microbiology (ASM)/2016 Microbe Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. The team’s research was also published in the June 23 edition of EBioMedicine, a leading online journal that focuses on creating dialogue and collaborations to effectively translate insights gained from biomedical research that improves human health. 

Read the article here.

According to the ASM, more than 60 countries have documented Zika virus transmission, with over 40 reporting their first outbreak within recent months.   The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported five travel-associated cases of Zika in South Carolina.

Bagasra and his research team discovered that Zika virus primarily kills or damages brain cells that are growing very fast, are still immature, and are found in a fetal brain.  The virus has no significant effect on mature neurons (nerve cells) found in an adult. 

“The big mystery is how Zika causes small brain size in newborns whose mothers have been infected with the virus but show no apparent brain illness,” said Bagasra. “Our results suggest that undeveloped or undifferentiated neurons lacking mature structures are highly permissive to the Zika infection during the early stages of fetal brain growth and development (neurogenesis) in fetal brains. However, developed adult (differentiated) neurons are relatively resistant to the virus,” added Bagasra. “This explains the rare occurrence of neurological complications in adults infected with Zika.”

Dr. Ewen McLean, chair of the Biology Department; Krishna Addanki, a forensic scientist at the Orangeburg (S.C.) - Claflin Forensic Laboratory, and graduate students Brandon Hughes and Ahila Sriskanda comprised the Claflin research team. Hughes and Sriskanda recently earned master’s degrees at Claflin in biotechnology.

For more information contact the Office of Communications and Marketing or Dr. Omar Bagasra at (803)-535-5253 or

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