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Aphids, protein therapies and using mathematics to beat epidemics - latest BBSRC research news

6 August 2008

The following stories feature in the latest issue of BBSRC Business, the quarterly research highlights magazine from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Aphids – flying in the face of climate change

As a direct result of warmer winters in the UK, aphids seeking new sources of food are appearing significantly earlier in the spring. For example, the peach-potato aphid (Myzus persicae) – one of the UK’s most damaging aphids – flies two weeks earlier for every 1°C rise in mean temperature for January and February combined. This means that there may be more aphids flying in spring and early summer, when crops are particularly vulnerable to damage. Scientists at the BBSRC-supported Rothamsted Research have been monitoring the flying form of all aphid species for more than 40 years using a network of 16 suction traps placed at various sites across the UK. These long-term data can be used to prepare growers for the season ahead by determining the need for and timing of control measures (based on preceding winter temperatures), and also to understand the wide reaching impacts of climate change.

Page 12
Contact: Dr Richard Harrington
Tel: 01582 763 133 x2452 e-mail:

Structural biology spin-out, tackles major diseases

A spin out company from basic structural biology, Asterion Ltd., has led to new technology that provides a way of creating therapeutic proteins to tackle major diseases. A big challenge for biological therapeutics is that they are broken down rapidly in the body. The technology developed by Asterion Ltd. provides longer acting drugs, meaning monthly injections rather than daily injections for patients. BBSRC-funded structural biologists at the University of Sheffield showed that it is possible to use DNA recombinant technology to engineer proteins that can intervene when there is a deficiency in hormones. Their initial experiments involved fusing different elements of hormone and receptor in order to treat a growth disorders such as short stature (a deficiency in growth hormone). This work has led to formation of the spin-out company which, with its patented and versatile therapeutic platform technology ProFuse TM, could also tackle major diseases such as some cancers, anaemia, infertility and diabetes. With support from the University, Biofusion and White Rose Seedcorn Fund, Asterion Ltd will take forward its programme of developing candidate drugs.

Page 6
Contact: Professor Richard Ross
Tel: +44 (0)114 271 2052 e-mail:

Mathematics as a tool to defeat plant and animal diseases

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, the Institute for Animal Health and Rothamsted Research are using mathematical models in the fight to prevent and control diseases such as bluetongue, sudden oak death, Rhizomania (affecting sugar beet), and Cassava Mosaic Virus Disease (CMVD). Mathematical modelling can help to predict where and when epidemics will occur and underpin practical advice to regulators and farmers about how best to control them. Using such methods can therefore reduce the impact and spread of the disease. This work was showcased to the public in an interactive exhibit at this year’s Royal Society Summer Exhibition.

Page 4
Contact: Bluetongue: Institute for Animal Health
Tel: +44 (0)1483 232441 e-mail:
Contact: Sudden Oak Death and Rhizomania: Professor Chris Gilligan
Tel: 01223 333900 e-mail:
Contact: CMVD and Sudden Oak Death: Dr Frank Van den Bosch
Tel: + 44 (0) 1582 763133 e-mail:

The above stories are the highlights from the July 2008 issue of Business. If you would like further information about any BBSRC story please contact the BBSRC Media Office.


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The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


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