Blood samples from the 1950s help rewrite the history of hepatitis C.
By David Rowlands, Dec 12 2017 10:55AM
Even a scrap of old DNA can yield vital clues about the history of a disease. So when Oliver Pybus, an evolutionary biologist at Oxford University, heard about the short sequence of viral genome extracted from blood kept frozen for more than 60 years, he had to have it. With that genetic sliver, Pybus thought he could add a vital chapter to a story he has long sought to complete: the history of the hepatitis C virus.
Scientists have amassed a wealth of knowledge about hepatitis C since its discovery in 1989. The virus currently infects about 150 million people worldwide and exists in several variations, or genotypes. Roughly 3 million people are infected in the U.S., mostly as a result of blood transfusions before the mid-1970s, when paid blood donations were stopped. (People infected with hepatitis C, often through contaminated needles from injection drug use, accounted for a large swath of paid donors.)