Step forward in FMD understanding
9 December 2011
Scientists have discovered a mechanism they believe may play a key role in the spread of foot-and-mouth disease in animals.
Researchers at the University of Leeds have been studying an enzyme - called 3D - which plays a vital role in the replication of the virus behind the disease. They have found that this enzyme forms fibrous structures (or fibrils) during the replication process. What's more, they have found a molecule which can prevent these fibrils forming.
The project was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and its findings have been published by the Journal of Virology.
"It's too much of a jump to say that we've found a potential drug target for treatment of foot-and-mouth disease because there's still such a lot we don't know," says Dr Nicola Stonehouse of the University of Leeds' Faculty of Biological Sciences. "However, we do think these findings are significant and provide us with a new avenue for exploration."
Foot-and-mouth is a one of the most readily transmissible diseases known to man, but the mechanisms by which it infects animals are not well understood. The virus responsible for the disease is able to reproduce very quickly, enabling it to cause widespread devastation in a short space of time. The 2001 outbreak in the UK resulted in the deaths of around seven million sheep and cattle at an extremely high cost to the British agricultural sector. Another, more contained outbreak, occurred in 2007.
In laboratory experiments, the research team were able to see that the 3D enzyme forms fibrils when it is copying genetic information it requires to replicate. The implications of these fibrils are not yet fully understood, but it is thought they may play an important role in the reproduction process. If this is the case, having already found a molecule to block the fibril formation could be significant.
"The next stage of our research will be to investigate these fibrils further, to look at their structure and purpose," says PhD student Kris Holmes, who has been working on the project.
Because FMD is classed as a dangerous pathogen, only one laboratory in the UK - the Institute for Animal Health at Pirbright, in Surrey - is licensed to work with the actual virus. In this research, the Leeds team used a simple, non-harmful model of the virus.
Notes to editors
This study is published in the Journal of Virology in a paper entitled Formation of higher-order FMDV 3Dpol complexes is dependent on elongation activity.
The full paper is available from Campus PR or the University of Leeds Press Office.
About the Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Leeds
The Faculty of Biological Sciences at the University of Leeds is one of the largest in the UK, with over 150 academic staff and over 400 postdoctoral fellows and postgraduate students. The Faculty is ranked 4th in the UK (Nature Journal, 457 (2009) doi :10.1038/457013a) based on results of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). The RAE feedback noted that "virtually all outputs were assessed as being recognized internationally, with many (60%) being internationally excellent or world-leading" in quality. The Faculty's research grant portfolio totals some £60M and funders include charities, research councils, the European Union and industry. www.fbs.leeds.ac.uk
About University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a turnover approaching £450M, Leeds is one of the top ten research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. It was placed 80th in the 2007 Times Higher Education world universities league table. The University's vision is to secure a place among the world's top 50 by 2015. www.leeds.ac.uk
BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.
Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.
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