The Pirbright Institute publication directory contains details of selected publications written by our researchers.

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Zhou L Q, Alphey N, Walker A S, Travers L M, Morrison N I, Bonsall M B, Raymond B (2019)

The application of self-limiting transgenic insects in managing resistance in experimental metapopulations

Journal of Applied Ecology 56 (3), 688-698


The mass release of transgenic insects carrying female lethal self-limiting genes can reduce pest insect populations. Substantial releases are also a novel resistance management tool, since wild type alleles conferring susceptibility to pesticides can dilute resistance alleles in target populations. However, a potential barrier is the need for large-scale area-wide releases. Here, we address whether localized releases of transgenic insects could provide an alternative means of population suppression and resistance management, without serious loss of efficacy. We used experimental mesocosms constituting insect metapopulations to explore the evolution of resistance to the Bacillus thuringiensis toxin Cry1Ac in a high-dose/refugia landscape in the insect Plutella xylostella. We ran two selection experiments, the first compared the efficacy of "everywhere" releases and negative controls to a spatially density-dependent or "whack-a-mole" strategy that concentrated release of transgenic insects in subpopulations with elevated resistance. The second experiment tested the relative efficacy of whack-a-mole and everywhere releases under spatially homogenous and heterogeneous selection pressure. The whack-a-mole releases were less effective than everywhere releases in terms of slowing the evolution of resistance, which, in the first experiment, largely prevented the evolution of resistance. In contrast to predictions, heterogeneous whack-a-mole releases were no more effective under heterogeneous selection pressure. Heterogeneous selection pressure did, however, reduce total insect population sizes. Whack-a-mole releases provided early population suppression, indistinguishable from homogeneous everywhere releases. However, insect population densities tracked the evolution of resistance in this system, as phenotypic resistance provides access to additional diet containing the toxin Cry1Ac. Thus, as resistance levels diverged between treatments, carrying capacities and population sizes increased under the whack-a-mole approach. Synthesis and applications. Spatially density-dependent releases of transgenic insects, particularly those targeting source populations at a landscape level, could suppress pest populations in the absence of blanket area-wide releases. The benefits of self-limiting transgenic insects were reduced in spatially localized releases, suggesting that they are not ideal for "spot" treatment of resistance problems. Nevertheless, spatially homogeneous or heterogeneous releases could be used to support other resistance management interventions.

Zhang Y, Tang N, Luo J, Teng M, Moffat K, Shen Z, Watson M, Nair V, Yao Y (2019)

Marek's disease virus-encoded miR-155 ortholog critical for the induction of lymphomas is not essential for the proliferation of transformed cell lines

Journal of Virology 93 (17), JVI.00713-19


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are small non-coding RNAs with profound regulatory roles in many areas of biology, including cancer. MicroRNA 155 (miR-155), one of the extensively studied multifunctional miRNAs, is important in several human malignancies such as diffuse large B cell lymphoma and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Moreover, miR-155 orthologs KSHV-miR-K12-11 and MDV-miR-M4, encoded by Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV) and Marek's disease virus (MDV) respectively, are also involved in oncogenesis. In MDV-induced T-cell lymphomas and lymphoblastoid cell lines derived from them, MDV-miR-M4 is highly expressed. Using excellent disease models of infection in natural avian hosts, we showed previously that MDV-miR-M4 is critical for the induction of T-cell lymphomas as mutant viruses with precise deletions were significantly compromised in their oncogenicity. However, these studies did not elucidate whether continued expression of MDV-miR-M4 is essential for maintaining the transformed phenotype of tumor cells. Here using an in situ CRISPR/Cas9 editing approach, we deleted MDV-miR-M4 from the MDV-induced lymphoma-derived lymphoblastoid cell line MDCC-HP8. Precise deletion of MDV-miR-M4 was confirmed by PCR, sequencing, quantitative RT-PCR and functional analysis. Continued proliferation of the MDV-miR-M4-deleted cell lines demonstrated that MDV-miR-M4 expression is non-essential for maintaining the transformed phenotype, despite its initial critical role in the induction of lymphomas. Ability to examine the direct role of oncogenic miRNAs in situ in tumour cell lines is valuable in delineating distinct determinants and pathways associated with the induction or maintenance of transformation in cancer cells and will also contribute significantly to gain further insights into the biology of oncogenic herpesviruses. Importance: Marek's disease virus (MDV) is an alphaherpesvirus associated with Marek's disease, a highly contagious neoplastic disease of chickens. MD serves as an excellent model for studying virus-induced T-cell lymphomas in the natural chicken hosts. Among the limited set of genes associated with MD oncogenicity, MDV-miR-M4, a highly expressed viral ortholog of the oncogenic miR-155, has received extensive attention due to its direct role in the induction of lymphomas. Using a targeted CRISPR-Cas9-based gene editing approach in MDV-transformed lymphoblastoid cell lines, we show that MDV-miR-M4, despite its critical role in the induction of tumours, is not essential for maintaining the transformed phenotype and continuous proliferation. As far as we know, this is the first study where precise editing of an oncogenic miRNA has been carried out in situ in MD lymphoma-derived cell lines to demonstrate that it is not essential in maintaining the transformed phenotype.

Xu J, Cai Y, Jiang B, Li X, Jin H, Liu W, Kong Z, Hong J, Sealy J E, Iqbal M, Li Y (2019)

An optimized aptamer-binding viral tegument protein VP8 inhibits the production of bovine herpesvirus-1 through blocking nucleocytoplasmic shuttling

International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 140, 1126-1238


Bovine herpesvirus 1 (BoHV-1) is a major pathogen of infectious bovine rhinotracheitis in bovine. Previously, we generated the aptamer IBRV A4 using systemic evolution of ligands by exponential enrichment. This aptamer inhibited infectivity of BoHV-1 by blocking viral particle absorption onto cell membranes. In this study, we found that the major tegument protein VP8 of BoHV-1 was involved in inhibition of infectious virus production by IBRV A4. We improved the affinity of IBRV A4 for VP8 by optimizing aptamer's structure and repeat conformation. An optimized aptamer, IBRV A4.7, was constructed with quadruple binding sites and a new stem-loop structure, which had a stronger binding affinity for VP8 or BoHV-1 than raw aptamer IBRV A4. IBRV A4.7 bound to VP8 with a dissociation constant (Kd) value of 0.2054 ± 0.03948 nM and bound to BoHV-1 with a Kd value of 0.3637 ± 0.05452 nM. Crucially, IBRV A4.7 had improved antiviral activity compared to IBRV A4, with a half-maximal inhibitory concentration of 1.16 ± 0.042 μM. Our results also revealed IBRV A4.7 inhibited BoHV-1 production in MDBK cells through blocking nucleocytoplasmic shuttling of viral VP8 in BoHV-1-infected MDBK cells. In conclusion, the aptamer IBRV A4.7 may have potency in preventing outbreaks in herds due to reactivation of latency.

Utt A, Rausalu K, Jakobson M, Männik A, Alphey L, Fragkoudis R, Merits A (2019)

Design and use of Chikungunya virus replication templates utilizing mammalian and mosquito RNA polymerase I mediated transcription

Journal of Virology 93 (18), e00794-19


Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a mosquito-borne alphavirus. It has a positive sense RNA genome that also serves as the mRNA for four non-structural proteins (nsPs) representing subunits of the viral replicase. Coupling of nsP and RNA synthesis complicates analysis of viral RNA replication. We developed trans-replication systems, where production of replication competent RNA and expression of viral replicase are uncoupled. Mammalian and mosquito RNA polymerase I promoters were used to produce non-capped RNA templates, which are poorly translated relative to CHIKV replicase generated capped RNAs. It was found that, in human cells, constructs driven by RNA polymerase I promoters of human and Chinese hamster origin performed equally well. In contrast, RNA polymerase I promoters from Aedes mosquitoes exhibited strong species specificity. In both mammalian and mosquito cells, novel trans-replicase assays had exceptional sensitivity, with up to 105-fold higher reporter expression in the presence of replicase relative to background. Using this highly sensitive assay to analyse CHIKV nsP1 functionality, several mutations that severely reduced, but did not completely block, CHIKV replicase activity were identified: (i) tagging the N-terminus of nsP1 with eGFP; (ii) mutations D63A and Y248A blocking the RNA capping; (iii) mutation R252E affecting nsP1 membrane anchoring. In contrast, a mutation in the nsP1 palmitoylation site completely inactivated CHIKV replicase in both human and mosquito cells and was lethal for the virus. Our data confirms that this novel system provides a valuable tool to study CHIKV replicase, RNA replication and virus-host interactions. Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is a medically important pathogen responsible for recent large-scale epidemics. The development of efficient therapies against CHIKV has been hampered by gaps in our understanding of how non-structural proteins (nsPs) function to form the viral replicase and replicate virus RNA. Here we describe an extremely sensitive assay to analyse the effects of mutations on virus RNA synthesis machinery in both cells of mammalian (host) and mosquito (vector) origin. Using this system several lethal mutations in CHIKV nsP1 were shown to reduce but not completely block the ability of its replicase to synthesize viral RNAs. However, in contrast to related alphaviruses, CHIKV replicase was completely inactivated by mutations preventing palmitoylation of nsP1. These data can be used to develop novel, virus-specific antiviral treatments.

Troyer R M, Malmberg J L, Zheng X, Miller C, MacMillan M, Sprague W S, Wood B A, VandeWoude S (2019)

Expression of APOBEC3 lentiviral restriction factors in cats

Viruses 11 (9), 831
Publisher’s version:


Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is a naturally occurring T-cell tropic lentiviral disease of felids with many similarities to HIV/AIDS in humans. Similar to primate lentiviral-host interactions, feline APOBEC3 (A3) has been shown to inhibit FIV infection in a host-specific manner and feline A3 degradation is mediated by FIV Vif. Further, infection of felids with non-native FIV strains results in restricted viral replication in both experimental and naturally occurring infections. However, the link between molecular A3-Vif interactions and A3 biological activity during FIV infection has not been well characterized. We thus examined expression of the feline A3 genes A3Z2, A3Z3 and A3Z2-Z3 during experimental infection of domestic cats with host-adapted domestic cat FIV (referred to as FIV) and non-adapted Puma concolor FIV (referred to as puma lentivirus, PLV). We determined A3 expression in different tissues and blood cells from uninfected, FIV-infected, PLV-infected and FIV/PLV co-infected cats; and in purified blood cell subpopulations from FIV-infected and uninfected cats. Additionally, we evaluated regulation of A3 expression by cytokines, mitogens, and FIV infection in cultured cells. In all feline cells and tissues studied, there was a striking difference in expression between the A3 genes which encode FIV inhibitors, with A3Z3 mRNA abundance exceeding that of A3Z2-Z3 by 300-fold or more. Interferon-alpha treatment of cat T cells resulted in upregulation of A3 expression, while treatment with interferon-gamma enhanced expression in cat cell lines. In cats, secondary lymphoid organs and peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) had the highest basal A3 expression levels and A3 genes were differentially expressed among blood T cells, B cells, and monocytes. Acute FIV and PLV infection of cats, and FIV infection of primary PBMC resulted in no detectable change in A3 expression with the exception of significantly elevated A3 expression in the thymus, the site of highest FIV replication. We conclude that cat A3 expression is regulated by cytokine treatment but, by and large, lentiviral infection did not appear to alter expression. Differences in A3 expression in different blood cell subsets did not appear to impact FIV viral replication kinetics within these cells. Furthermore, the relative abundance of A3Z3 mRNA compared to A3Z2-Z3 suggests that A3Z3 may be the major active anti-lentiviral APOBEC3 gene product in domestic cats.

Tregaskes C A, Harrison M, Sowa A K, van Hateren A, Hunt L G, Vainio O, Kaufman J (2019)

Surface expression, peptide repertoire, and thermostability of chicken class I molecules correlate with peptide transporter specificity

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 113 (3), 692-697


The chicken major histocompatibility complex (MHC) has strong genetic associations with resistance and susceptibility to certain infectious pathogens. The cell surface expression level of MHC class I molecules varies as much as 10-fold between chicken haplotypes and is inversely correlated with diversity of peptide repertoire and with resistance to Marek's disease caused by an oncogenic herpesvirus. Here we show that the average thermostability of class I molecules isolated from cells also varies, being higher for high-expressing MHC haplotypes. However, we find roughly the same amount of class I protein synthesized by high-and low-expressing MHC haplotypes, with movement to the cell surface responsible for the difference in expression. Previous data show that chicken TAP genes have high allelic polymorphism, with peptide translocation specific for each MHC haplotype. Here we use assembly assays with peptide libraries to show that high-expressing B15 class I molecules can bind a much wider variety of peptides than are found on the cell surface, with the B15 TAPs restricting the peptides available. In contrast, the translocation specificity of TAPs from the low-expressing B21 haplotype is even more permissive than the promiscuous binding shown by the dominantly expressed class I molecule. B15/B21 heterozygote cells show much greater expression of B15 class I molecules than B15/B15 homozygote cells, presumably as a result of receiving additional peptides from the B21 TAPs. Thus, chicken MHC haplotypes vary in several correlated attributes, with the most obvious candidate linking all these properties being molecular interactions within the peptide-loading complex (PLC).

Rajko-Nenow P, Flannery J, Arnold H, Howson E L A, Darpel K, Stedman A, Corla A, Batten C (2019)

A rapid RT-LAMP assay for the detection of all four lineages of peste des petits ruminants virus

Journal of Virological Methods 274, 113730


Peste des petits ruminants (PPR) is a viral disease of small ruminants that is caused by the PPR virus (PPRV) and is a significant burden on subsistence farmers across the developing world. Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) provides cost-effective, rapid, specific and sensitive detection of nucleic acid and has been demonstrated to have field application for a range of viruses. We describe the development of a novel PPRV RT-LAMP assay utilising carefully-selected primers (targeting the N-gene) allowing for the detection of all known PPRV lineages in < 20 minutes. The assay was evaluated in comparison with a “gold standard” real-time RT-PCR assay using more than 200 samples, comprising samples from recent PPRV outbreaks, experimentally-infected goats, well-characterised cell culture isolates and samples collected from uninfected animals. The RT-LAMP assay demonstrated 100% diagnostic specificity and greater than 97% diagnostic sensitivity in comparison with the real-time RT-PCR assay. The limit of detection was between 0.3 and 0.8 log10 TCID50 ml-1 equating to a CT value of 31.52 to 33.48. In experimentally-infected animals, the RT-LAMP could detect PPRV as early as 4 days post infection (dpi) - before clinical signs were observed at 7 dpi. The RT-LAMP assay can support the global PPR eradication campaign.

Macdonald S E, van Diemen P M, Martineau H, Stevens M P, Tomley F M, Stabler R A, Blake D P (2019)

Impact of Eimeria tenella coinfection on Campylobacter jejuni colonization of the chicken

Infection and Immunity 87 (2), e00772-18


Eimeria tenella can cause the disease coccidiosis in chickens. The direct and often detrimental impact of this parasite on chicken health, welfare, and productivity is well recognized; however, less is known about the secondary effects that infection may have on other gut pathogens. Campylobacter jejuni is the leading cause of human bacterial foodborne disease in many countries and has been demonstrated to exert negative effects on poultry welfare and production in some broiler lines. Previous studies have shown that concurrent Eimeria infection can influence the colonization and replication of bacteria, such as Clostridium perfringens and Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium. Through a series of in vivo coinfection experiments, this study evaluated the impact that E. tenella infection had on C. jejuni colonization of chickens, including the influence of variations in parasite dose and sampling time after bacterial challenge. Coinfection with E. tenella resulted in a significant increase in C. jejuni colonization in the cecum in a parasite dose-dependent manner but a significant decrease in C. jejuni colonization in the spleen and liver of chickens. The results were reproducible at 3 and 10 days after bacterial infection. This work highlights that E. tenella not only has a direct impact on the health and well-being of chickens but can have secondary effects on important zoonotic pathogens.

Haghighat-Khah R E, Harvey-Samuel T, Basu S, StJohn O, Scaife S, Verkuijl S, Lovett E, Alphey L (2019)

Engineered action at a distance: blood-meal-inducible paralysis in Aedes aegypti

PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases 13 (9), e0007579


BACKGROUND: Population suppression through mass-release of Aedes aegypti males carrying dominant-lethal transgenes has been demonstrated in the field. Where population dynamics show negative density-dependence, suppression can be enhanced if lethality occurs after the density-dependent (i.e. larval) stage. Existing molecular tools have limited current examples of such Genetic Pest Management (GPM) systems to achieving this through engineering 'cell-autonomous effectors' i.e. where the expressed deleterious protein is restricted to the cells in which it is expressed-usually under the control of the regulatory elements (e.g. promoter regions) used to build the system. This limits the flexibility of these technologies as regulatory regions with useful spatial, temporal or sex-specific expression patterns may only be employed if the cells they direct expression in are simultaneously sensitive to existing effectors, and also precludes the targeting of extracellular regions such as cell-surface receptors. Expanding the toolset to 'non-cell autonomous' effectors would significantly reduce these limitations. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We sought to engineer female-specific, late-acting lethality through employing the Ae. aegypti VitellogeninA1 promoter to drive blood-meal-inducible, fat-body specific expression of tTAV. Initial attempts using pro-apoptotic effectors gave no evident phenotype, potentially due to the lower sensitivity of terminally-differentiated fat-body cells to programmed-death signals. Subsequently, we dissociated the temporal and spatial expression of this system by engineering a novel synthetic effector (Scorpion neurotoxin-TetO-gp67.AaHIT) designed to be secreted out of the tissue in which it was expressed (fat-body) and then affect cells elsewhere (neuro-muscular junctions). This resulted in a striking, temporary-paralysis phenotype after blood-feeding. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: These results are significant in demonstrating for the first time an engineered 'action at a distance' phenotype in a non-model pest insect. The potential to dissociate temporal and spatial expression patterns of useful endogenous regulatory elements will extend to a variety of other pest insects and effectors.

Forth J H, Forth L F, King J, Groza O, Hubner A, Olesen A S, Hoper D, Dixon L K, Netherton C L, Rasmussen T B, Blome S, Pohlmann A, Beer M (2019)

A deep-sequencing workflow for the fast and efficient generation of high-quality African swine fever virus whole-genome sequences

Viruses 11, 846
Publisher’s version:


African swine fever (ASF) is a severe disease of suids caused by African swine fever virus (ASFV). Its dsDNA genome (170-194 kbp) is scattered with homopolymers and repeats as well as inverted-terminal-repeats (ITR), which hamper whole-genome sequencing. To date, only a few genome sequences have been published and only for some are data on sequence quality available enabling in-depth investigations. Especially in Europe and Asia, where ASFV has continuously spread since its introduction into Georgia in 2007, a very low genetic variability of the circulating ASFV-strains was reported. Therefore, only whole-genome sequences can serve as a basis for detailed virus comparisons. Here, we report an effective workflow, combining target enrichment, Illumina and Nanopore sequencing for ASFV whole-genome sequencing. Following this approach, we generated an improved high-quality ASFV Georgia 2007/1 whole-genome sequence leading to the correction of 71 sequencing errors and the addition of 956 and 231 bp at the respective ITRs. This genome, derived from the primary outbreak in 2007, can now serve as a reference for future whole-genome analyses of related ASFV strains and molecular approaches. Using both workflow and the reference genome, we generated the first ASFV-whole-genome sequence from Moldova, expanding the sequence knowledge from Eastern Europe.


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