The Poxvirus Research Group is led by Dr Beard and studies atypical large DNA viruses that have adapted to a cytoplasmic replication cycle including the Poxviridae and Asfarviridae virus families.
Viruses of particular interest to the group include:
- Vaccinia virus. This virus which was used as a vaccine in the smallpox eradication campaign and is now studied as the prototypic poxvirus in laboratories worldwide (figure 1 and 2).
- Lumpy skin disease virus, Sheeppox virus and Goatpox virus. These three species comprise the Capripoxvirus genus and cause severe systemic disease in cattle, sheep and goats. The viruses cause significant animal and economic loss in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. In 2015 Lumpy skin disease virus entered Europe for the first time, causing an epidemic in cattle in Greece. It subsequently spread through the Balkan region and now threatens neighbouring European countries (figure 3)
- African Swine Fever virus. This virus is the only member of the Asfarviridae family and causes the fatal haemorrhagic disease known as African swine fever in pigs. There is no vaccine available to protect against this highly contagious virus.
Our research aims to understand how these large DNA viruses interact with their host and then apply this knowledge to the development of novel tools to enable control and prevention of disease. A better understanding of these interactions will (a) allow us to develop new methods of disrupting the virus lifecycle, leading to more effective vaccines to prevent disease, and (b) provide novel insights into basic cellular mechanisms.
Interactions between the virus and host cell. Recent research in our group has identified over 300 host proteins which strongly influence the replication of Vaccinia virus (Beard, Griffiths et al. 2014). We are currently investigating the mechanism of action of these proteins (for example (Haga, Pechenick Jowers et al. 2014, Pechenick Jowers, Featherstone et al. 2015) in order to develop new methods of disrupting the virus lifecycle. This work is also uncovering new knowledge about fundamental cell biology. Deciphering the unusual and complex lifecycle of these specialised viruses is revealing new functions for cellular proteins and novel methods of regulating intracellular signalling pathways which can be applied to a range of physiological and pathological processes.
The capripoxvirus Lumpy Skin Disease virus has recently entered Europe and spread rapidly through Greece, Bulgaria, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Republic of Serbia. This disease is therefore a particular focus of our current work. We are characterising the immune response to infection so we can develop better diagnostic tools and vaccines, and carrying out a detailed examination of the genome of different virus strains to estimate the rate of evolution of the virus and enable molecular epidemiological studies.
Poxviruses and related large DNA viruses include a number of important veterinary pathogens which are threatening Europe and the UK such as lumpy skin disease and African swine fever. Our work provides both immediate and long term economic and societal impact. For example we are developing new diagnostic tests for lumpy skin disease virus which will have immediate impact. Our work on the fundamental biology of these viruses can be used to develop novel methods for virus control. This impact will be likely take many years to be fully appreciated and involve work by other many other groups. We also contribute to UK society and the economy by providing expert advice on these important diseases to policy makers in governments (UK, European and other), veterinarians in the field, and farmers.