The Influenza Viruses group is led by Dr Holly Shelton, a Pirbright Institute funded research fellow focused on the area of influenza virus virulence and pathogenesis. The group’s research is specifically interested in understanding which viral factors are responsible for the differential spectrums of virulence and pathogenesis observed between strains and hosts (poultry, swine and humans). This work makes use of reverse genetics to understand the how influenza proteins interact and manipulate host factors and what effect these interactions has on the viral disease phenotype. Joe James is a PhD student within the group registered with Imperial College London and recently we have won a BBSRC grant which will bring a post-doctoral scientist into our team as well.
- To relate viral genetic signatures to pathogenicity and transmissibility of influenza viruses.
- To understand the how viral genetic signatures contribute to disease outcome in different host species.
- To exploit differences in host- virus interactions between species to control and prevent transmission within a host population and between different hosts.
One of our research projects is looking at the contribution to pathogenesis in chickens of the small influenza protein PB1-F2. This protein is conserved as a full length protein in the sequence of 96% of avian isolates, this compares to 42% of human and 55% of swine isolates, suggesting a unique pressure for its conservation in avian hosts. We utilise in vitro host pathway mapping assays, ex vivo cell models, embryonated eggs and whole host (chickens) studies to understand PB1-F2’s role.
Our most recently awarded grant will risk assess the development of neuraminidase inhibitor resistance in avian influenza viruses and whether such mutations can be circulated by poultry stably. We will also consider whether these mutations alter the fitness of viruses in poultry host or zoonotic potential for humans.
We also have projects looking at host tropism of influenza viruses, risk mitigation strategies to work with influenza viruses, the development of ex vivo avian culture models to study influenza viruses.
Understanding pathogenesis and virulence of Influenza A viruses
Influenza A viruses can infect multiple host species including farmed poultry and humans causing economic problems for farmers and potential human health threats through zoonosis. We are studying influenza genes that may contribute to pathogenicity and transmissibility in poultry hosts. By understanding the role of these viral genes and the mechanisms through which they work we can design new vaccine and therapeutic targets for both animals and humans. Such new tools would increase the effectiveness of control strategies for influenza viruses in poultry which will reduce the economic losses to these viruses for farmers and also protect human health.