Research on foot and mouth disease

Foot-and-mouth disease virus

The focus is on prevention, control, diagnosis, and greater knowledge of foot-and-mouth disease at all levels - from characterising virus strains worldwide to molecular analysis of the properties of the virus.

Foot-and-mouth disease remains one of the world's most serious diseases of livestock. Europe is normally free of the disease, but new outbreaks can have enormous consequences. For instance, there was an outbreak in the UK in 2001 that affected more than 2,000 farms and resulted in the slaughter of millions of animals. Foot-and-mouth disease is still endemic in many parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The disease is caused by foot-and-mouth disease virus, and spread of the virus to Europe is a constant threat, which makes the disease a shared problem.

Global cooperation

There are seven different serotypes of foot-and-mouth disease virus; each serotype can be regarded as causing an individual disease, since there is no cross-protection between serotypes. It is important to be aware of the different serotypes of the virus circulating in various parts of the world and to ensure that the diagnostic methods used are updated as the virus evolves very quickly.

Therefore, we perform sequence analysis of viruses from outbreaks in other countries such as Pakistan, Uganda, and Kenya. Some countries have several different serotypes circulating simultaneously and it is necessary to know the types involved in an outbreak in order to choose the correct vaccine.

Effect of FMDV and BEV infection on host cell microtubules. BHK-21 cells were infected with FMDV and fixed with paraformaldehyde at 2 hpi. The cells were immunolabeled for the presence of FMDV and BEV structural proteins, which were detected with anti-rabbit antibody-Alexa488 conjugate (green), and the microtubule cytoskeleton was immunolabeled with mouse anti-α-tubulin, which was detected with anti-mouse antibody-Alexa568 conjugate (red). Nuclei were labeled with DAPI (blue).

Faster diagnosis and new knowledge

Current studies are focused on better ways to fight the disease, for example through the development of new, improved vaccines and diagnostic methods. With the support of EuFMD, which is part of FAO, we are developing rapid methods, based on real-time RT-PCR systems, to differentiate between different serotypes.

We study the important processes of virus biology including RNA replication, viral protein synthesis and virus capsid assembly. Furthermore, we analyse the features of the virus, which determine its ability to cause disease. This is central to the development of new control strategies (for instance by interfering with the ability of the virus to block the defense mechanisms in the host). An important foundation of this work is the ability to modify the virus genome in order to determine the effects of these targeted changes on the properties of the virus in animal cells and in the natural host.

Thus, we use a reverse genetics approach to introduce targeted changes into the virus genome (as cDNA). Subsequently, we analyze the impact of these changes on the known functions / properties of the modified protein or RNA with functional assays. Then we rescue infectious viruses (by introducing RNA transcripts into cells derived from the modified cDNA) and characterize the effects of these changes on the ability of the rescued virus ability to grow and cause disease.



Graham Belsham
+45 35 88 79 85