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

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Ropiak H M, King S, Busquets M G, Newbrook K, Pullinger G D, Brown H, Flannery J, Gubbins S, Batten C, Rajko-Nenow P, Darpel K E (2021)

Identification of a BTV-strain-specific single gene that increases Culicoides vector infection rate

Viruses 13 (9), 1781
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Since the 2000s, the distribution of bluetongue virus (BTV) has changed, leading to numerous epidemics and economic losses in Europe. Previously, we found a BTV-4 field strain with a higher infection rate of a Culicoides vector than a BTV-1 field strain has. We reverse-engineered parental BTV-1 and BTV-4 strains and created BTV-1/BTV-4 reassortants to elucidate the influence of individual BTV segments on BTV replication in both C. sonorensis midges and in KC cells. Substitution of segment 2 (Seg-2) with Seg-2 from the rBTV-4 significantly increased vector infection rate in reassortant BTV-14S2 (30.4%) in comparison to reverse-engineered rBTV-1 (1.0%). Replacement of Seg-2, Seg-6 and Seg-7 with those from rBTV-1 in reassortant BTV-41S2S6S7 (2.9%) decreased vector infection rate in comparison to rBTV-4 (30.2%). However, triple-reassorted BTV-14S2S6S7 only replicated to comparatively low levels (3.0%), despite containing Seg-2, Seg-6 and Seg-7 from rBTV-4, indicating that vector infection rate is influenced by interactions of multiple segments and/or host-mediated amino acid substitutions within segments. Overall, these results demonstrated that we could utilize reverse-engineered viruses to identify the genetic basis influencing BTV replication within Culicoides vectors. However, BTV replication dynamics in KC cells were not suitable for predicting the replication ability of these virus strains in Culicoides midges.

Ptasinska A, Whalley C, Bosworth A, Poxon C, Bryer C, Machin N, Grippon S, Wise E L, Armson B, Howson E L A, Goring A, Snell G, Forster J, Mattocks C, Frampton S, Anderson R, Cleary D, Parker J, Boukas K, Graham N, Cellura D, Garratt E, Skilton R, Sheldon H, Collins A, Ahmad N, Friar S, Burns D, Williams T, Godfrey K M, Deans Z, Douglas A, Hill S, Kidd M, Porter D, Kidd S P, Cortes N J, Fowler V, Williams T, Richter A, Beggs A D (2021)

Diagnostic accuracy of loop-mediated isothermal amplification coupled to nanopore sequencing (LamPORE) for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 infection at scale in symptomatic and asymptomatic populations

Clinical Microbiology and Infection 27 (9), 1348


OBJECTIVES: Rapid, high throughput diagnostics are a valuable tool, allowing the detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in populations so as to identify and isolate people with asymptomatic and symptomatic infections. Reagent shortages and restricted access to high throughput testing solutions have limited the effectiveness of conventional assays such as quantitative RT-PCR (RT-qPCR), particularly throughout the first months of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. We investigated the use of LamPORE, where loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) is coupled to nanopore sequencing technology, for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in symptomatic and asymptomatic populations.

METHODS: In an asymptomatic prospective cohort, for 3 weeks in September 2020, health-care workers across four sites (Birmingham, Southampton, Basingstoke and Manchester) self-swabbed with nasopharyngeal swabs weekly and supplied a saliva specimen daily. These samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA using the Oxford Nanopore LamPORE system and a reference RT-qPCR assay on extracted sample RNA. A second retrospective cohort of 848 patients with influenza-like illness from March 2020 to June 2020 were similarly tested from nasopharyngeal swabs.

RESULTS: In the asymptomatic cohort a total of 1200 participants supplied 23 427 samples (3966 swab, 19 461 saliva) over a 3-week period. The incidence of SARS-CoV-2 detection using LamPORE was 0.95%. Diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of LamPORE was >99.5% (decreasing to approximately 98% when clustered estimation was used) in both swab and saliva asymptomatic samples when compared with the reference RT-qPCR test. In the retrospective symptomatic cohort, the incidence was 13.4% and the sensitivity and specificity were 100%.

CONCLUSIONS: LamPORE is a highly accurate methodology for the detection of SARS-CoV-2 in both symptomatic and asymptomatic population settings and can be used as an alternative to RT-qPCR.


We report here a targeted risk-based study to investigate the presence of influenza A viruses at the migratory-wild-domestic bird interface across the major wetlands of central India's Maharashtra state during the winter migration season. The H9N2 viruses have been isolated and confirmed in 3.86% (33/854) of the fecal samples of resident birds. To investigate the genetic pools of H9N2 circulating in resident birds, we sequenced two isolates of H9N2 from distant wetlands. Sequence and phylogenetic analyses have shown that these viruses are triple reassortants, with HA, NA, NP, and M genes belonging to G1 sub-lineage (A/quail/Hong Kong/G1/1997), PB2, PB1, and NS genes originating from the prototype Eurasian lineage (A/mallard/France/090360/2009) and PA gene deriving from Y439/Korean-like (A/duck/Hong Kong/Y439/97) sub-lineage. It was confirmed not only that four of their gene segments had a high genetic association with the zoonotic H9N2 virus, A/Human/India/TCM2581/2019, but also that they had many molecular markers associated with mammalian adaptation and enhanced virulence in mammals including the unique multiple basic amino acids, KSKR↓GLF at the HA cleavage site, and analog N-and O-glycosylation patterns on HA with that of the zoonotic H9N2 virus. Furthermore, future experiments would be to characterize these isolates biologically to address the public health concern. Importantly, due to the identification of these viruses at a strategic geographical location in India (a major stop-over point in the Central Asian flyway), these novel viruses also pose a possible threat to be exported to other regions via migratory/resident birds. Consequently, systematic investigation and active monitoring are a prerequisite for identifying and preventing the spread of viruses of zoonotic potential by enforcing strict biosecurity measures.


Many viruses that cause serious diseases in humans and animals, including the betacoronaviruses (beta-CoVs), such as SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV, and the recently identified SARS-CoV-2, have natural reservoirs in bats. Because these viruses rely entirely on the host cellular machinery for survival, their evolution is likely to be guided by the link between the codon usage of the virus and that of its host. As a result, specific cellular microenvironments of the diverse hosts and/or host tissues imprint peculiar molecular signatures in virus genomes. Our study is aimed at deciphering some of these signatures. Using a variety of genetic methods we demonstrated that trends in codon usage across chiroptera-hosted CoVs are collaboratively driven by geographically different host-species and temporal-spatial distribution. We not only found that chiroptera-hosted CoVs are the ancestors of SARS-CoV-2, but we also revealed that SARS-CoV-2 has the codon usage characteristics similar to those seen in CoVs infecting the Rhinolophus sp. Surprisingly, the envelope gene of beta-CoVs infecting Rhinolophus sp., including SARS-CoV-2, had extremely high CpG levels, which appears to be an evolutionarily conserved trait. The dissection of the furin cleavage site of various CoVs infecting hosts revealed host-specific preferences for arginine codons; however, arginine is encoded by a wider variety of synonymous codons in the murine CoV (MHV-A59) furin cleavage site. Our findings also highlight the latent diversity of CoVs in mammals that has yet to be fully explored.


Tanzania has the second largest livestock population in Africa and livestock keeping is an integral part of most people’s livelihoods. Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a transboundary disease, affecting cloven-hoofed animals, that is currently endemic in Tanzania. The Tanzania Development Vision 2025 aspires to make the livestock sector more competitive. Part of this plan foresees establishing a FMD disease free zone in Rukwa region to be able to increase the export of animals and animal products. The aim of this study was to assess the economic efficiency and feasibility of establishing such an FMD-free zone and to advise policy makers on the profitability of the investment. A stochastic benefit-cost model, set-up in Palisade @Risk for Excel for a time frame of ten years, was developed to assess whether the benefits of establishing a FMD-free zone would outweigh the costs. Data were collated from reviewing literature, government statistics, and key informant interviews with farmers, traders and veterinarians in Tanzania, and complemented by informed assumptions and expert opinion. Moreover, feasibility aspects including underlying infrastructure, market structures and resource availability were discussed based on key informant interviews, literature review and historical analyses. The net present value for the establishment of a FMD-free zone was negative and the benefit-cost ratio was below one (mean 0.09, min 0.05 - max 0.15 in the scenario considering vaccination of all susceptible domestic animals, and mean 0.11; min 0.06 - max 0.20 when considering vaccinating cattle only), excluding potential benefits from trade. The sensitivity analysis showed that variables related to the cost of vaccination had the largest negative impact on the net present value. The proposed FMD-free zone in Rukwa region is unlikely to be cost-effective with the current FMD status and export trade prospects in Tanzania. Interviews with stakeholders revealed that vaccine availability, funding, farmers’ willingness to participate and lack of staff continuity in key roles were the main barriers to establish a reliable FMD control programme in the country. Recommendations towards FMD control and potential short and middle term strategies are discussed.


Diverse strains of Wolbachia bacteria, carried by many arthropods, as well as some nematodes, interact in many different ways with their hosts. These include male killing, reproductive incompatibility, nutritional supplementation and suppression or enhancement of the transmission of diseases such as dengue and malaria. Consequently, Wolbachia have an important role to play in novel strategies to control human and livestock diseases and their vectors. Similarly, cell lines derived from insect hosts of Wolbachia constitute valuable research tools in this field. During the generation of novel cell lines from mosquito and sand fly vectors, we isolated two strains of Wolbachia and demonstrated their infectivity for cells from a range of other insects and ticks. These new insect cell lines and Wolbachia strains will aid in the fight against mosquitoes, sand flies and, potentially, ticks and the diseases that these arthropods transmit to humans and their domestic animals.


Foot and mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious disease of cloven-hoofed animals with serious economic consequences. FMD is endemic in Southeast Asia (SEA) and East Asia (EA) with the circulation of multiple serotypes, posing a threat to Australia and other FMD-free countries. Although vaccination is one of the most important control measures to prevent FMD outbreaks, the available vaccines may not be able to provide enough cross-protection against the FMD viruses (FMDVs) circulating in these countries due to the incursion of new lineages and sub-lineages as experienced in South Korea during 2010, a FMD-free country, when a new lineage of serotype O FMDV (Mya-98) spread to the country, resulting in devastating economic consequences. In this study, a total of 62 serotype O (2013–2018) viruses selected from SEA and EA countries were antigenically characterized by virus neutralization tests using three existing (O/HKN/6/83, O/IND/R2/75 and O/PanAsia-2) and one putative (O/MYA/2009) vaccine strains and full capsid sequencing. The Capsid sequence analysis revealed three topotypes, Cathay, SEA and Middle East-South Asia (ME-SA) of FMDVs circulating in the region. The vaccines used in this study showed a good match with the SEA and ME-SA viruses. However, none of the recently circulating Cathay topotype viruses were protected by any of the vaccine strains, including the existing Cathay topotype vaccine (O/HKN/6/83), indicating an antigenic drift and, also the urgency to monitor this topotype in the region and develop a new vaccine strain if necessary, although currently the presence of this topotype is mainly restricted to China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam. Further, the capsid sequences of these viruses were analyzed that identified several capsid amino acid substitutions involving neutralizing antigenic sites 1, 2 and 5, which either individually or together could underpin the observed antigenic drift.

Isaacs A, Cheung S T M, Thakur N, Jaberolansar N, Young A, Modhiran N, Bailey D, Graham S P, Young P R, Chappell K J, Watterson D (2021)

Combinatorial F-G immunogens as Nipah and respiratory syncytial virus vaccine candidates

Viruses 13 (10), 1942
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Nipah virus (NiV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) possess two surface glycoproteins involved in cellular attachment and membrane fusion, both of which are potential targets for vaccines. The majority of vaccine development is focused on the attachment (G) protein of NiV, which is the immunodominant target. In contrast, the fusion (F) protein of RSV is the main target in vaccine development. Despite this, neutralising epitopes have been described in NiV F and RSV G, making them alternate targets for vaccine design. Through rational design, we have developed a vaccine strategy applicable to phylogenetically divergent NiV and RSV that comprises both the F and G proteins (FxG). In a mouse immunization model, we found that NiV FxG elicited an improved immune response capable of neutralising pseudotyped NiV and a NiV mutant that is able to escape neutralisation by two known F-specific antibodies. RSV FxG elicited an immune response against both F and G and was able to neutralise RSV; however, this was inferior to the immune response of F alone. Despite this, RSV FxG elicited a response against a known protective epitope within G that is conserved across RSV A and B subgroups, which may provide additional protection in vivo. We conclude that inclusion of F and G antigens within a single design provides a streamlined subunit vaccine strategy against both emerging and established pathogens, with the potential for broader protection against NiV.


Avian influenza viruses pose a continuous threat to both poultry and human health, with significant economic impact. The ability of viruses to reassort and jump the species barrier into mammalian hosts generates a constant pandemic threat. H10Nx avian viruses have been shown to replicate in mammalian species without prior adaptation and have caused significant human infection and fatalities. They are able to rapidly reassort with circulating poultry strains and go undetected due to their low pathogenicity in chickens. Novel detections of both human reassortant strains and increasing endemicity of H10Nx poultry infections highlight the increasing need for heightened surveillance and greater understanding of the distribution, tropism, and infection capabilities of these viruses. In this minireview, we highlight the gap in the current understanding of this subtype and its prevalence across a vast range of host species and geographical locations.


Previously, we reported the detection of two novel bluetongue virus (BTV) strains (SPvvvv/02 and SPvvvv/03), possibly representing new BTV genotypes, in a batch of sheeppox vaccine. We developed type-specific RT-qPCR assays (targeting genome segment 2) for these two new BTV strains. The limit of detection of both assays was 10 genome copies/mul and no cross-reactivity with other BTV genotypes was observed. The performance of three other BTV group-specific diagnostic assays was also tested against the putative novel genotypes. RT-qPCR assays targeting BTV segment 9 and 10 detected both strains (SPvvvv/02 and SPvvvv/03) whereas a BTV segment 1 RT-qPCR assay was unable to detect either BTV strain. The work presented here expands upon the current repertoire of RT-qPCR assays for BTV genotype determination.


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