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Molecular Virology

Our group

We work on a number of important animal pathogens, including foot-and-mouth disease virus (FMDV), classical swine fever virus (CSFV) and porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV). These viruses have a major economic impact globally and are a considerable threat to food security.

Our aims

  • To improve vaccine design, quality assurance and production
  • To elucidate the mechanisms that viruses use to deal with host innate immune responses.
  • To develop new molecular tools that can be used to better understand the life cycles of the viruses we work on.

Our research

We are applying the research skills within the group to study evasion of the innate immune response by FMDV, PRRSV and CSFV. Our work combines the identification and functional characterisation of interactions that occur between viral and host proteins, with the study of specialised primary cell types, such as dendritic cells, to infection.

The Molecular Virology group is also committed to improving foot-and-mouth (FMD) vaccines to alleviate the economic impact FMD has on smallholders in endemic countries. Vaccination remains the most effective approach for controlling FMD, however, virus instability, the requirement for vaccines to serologically match circulating strains and sub-optimal vaccine production seriously hamper control efforts in endemic countries. Our current work is focussing on the use of novel assays to assess virus stability and reverse genetic approaches to develop more stable seed-stock for vaccine production.

Research in the group is currently funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and The Pirbright Institute funded studentships.

Current research projects include:

  • FMD vaccine analysis, design and production
  • Understanding the interaction of viruses with specialised cells types such as dendritic cells
  • Characterisation of the mechanisms used by viral proteins to inhibit the apoptotic and interferon innate immune responses
  • Host-virus protein interaction screens

We use a wide range of laboratory techniques including viral vector delivery platforms, gene editing, reverse genetics, and next generation sequencing. We have active collaborations with scientists at the University of Oxford, St George’s, University of London, the University of Glasgow, Rhodes University and the Central Veterinary Institute, The Netherlands.

Our impact

Our research contributes to the development of improved next generation FMD vaccines. It also provides a better understanding of how viral proteins counteract host immune responses and the genetic factors that underlie strain virulence, which informs the development of new and improved control measures, such as attenuated vaccines and antivirals.

Group members

Cortey M, Ferretti L, Perez-Martin E, Zhang F, de Klerk-Lorist L M, Scott K, Freimanis G, Seago J, Ribeca P, van Schalkwyk L, Juleff N D, Maree F F, Charleston B (2019)

Journal of Virology 93 (15) , e00563-19

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