The Ebola virus was first identified in humans in 1976, however, the disease may have existed for 23 million years — much longer than previously believed.
Researchers at the University at Buffalo have found that Filoviruses, the viral family that Ebola and it’s cousin Marburg belong to, interacted with mammals far earlier than the 10,000 years ago mark as previously believed. Evidence of viruses in the Filoviridae family appears in the genetic material left behind by fossilized rodents.
Found specifically in hamsters and voles, the viral fossil genetic material, called VP35, appeared in the same place within the genomes of four different species of rodents. This means that the genetic material was acquired by these rodents prior to the Miocene Epoch, when the rodents evolved into different species. This makes the ancestor virus to Ebola and Marbug between 16 and 23 million years old.
The VP35 fossil’s genetic material is also more closely related to Ebola than to Marburg, meaning that the viruses had already started to diverge and mutate prior to the Miocene. This information, some of the first historical hint about the origins of Ebola, could open the door for more insights into other filoviruses generally and even as to what species could be serving as “reservoirs” for Ebola and Marbug, information that could lead to prevention and potentially treatment of the diseases.
As of this article there have been 5692 lab-confirmed cases of Ebola resulting in 4922 deaths and one confirmed case of Marbug in 2014. The patient with Marbug succumbed from the virus.
Source: Univeristy at Buffalo