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Video transcript: Midge genome: Reinforcing the war against viruses

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July 2012

Dr Mark Fife, Institute for Animal Health
I'm Mark Fife from the Institute for Animal Health, I'm Head of the Genetics and Genomics Group and we've recently been awarded a grant from BBSRC and this is to examine the genome of the Culicoides midge, the beast that's responsible for spreading a number of important viruses to livestock and have great impact on the UK economy. We've seen in the last few years the outbreak of bluetongue virus and more recently the Schmallenberg outbreak which is possibly attributed to the midge as well.

Video shows the Culicoides midge.

Despite the fact that there are 1500 species of Culicoides midges, there is not a single genome sequence for any of them and by generating a genome sequence for the Culicoides sonorensis populations which we have at Pirbright, we will be able to use this information to build further data for other species that are found throughout he world.

So the reason why we want to look at the genome of the midge is that we will be able to identify why some midges spread the virus to animals and others don't. And this, we believe, is done to the genetically determined traits of the midge. And what the project involves is using the modern methods of genome sequencing, called next generation sequencing, to generate the entire genome sequence of this midge and use this to try and tease out the genes that are important in allowing the virus to spread from the vector, which is the midge, to the farm animal.

With the next generation sequencing technologies we are able to sequence the genome of this midge, which is only a tenth of the size of the human genome, but we can do this in just a couple of days. So once we've sequenced the genome of the midge the important thing then is to put it all together, put the jigsaw together, so we can identify genes that are responsible for why the virus is transmitted very well in some cases and not so well in others within the population. And this is being done with our collaborators at EBI, the European Bioinformatics Institute.

Dr Simon Carpenter, Institute for Animal Health
Here at Pirbright we've been maintaining colonies of Culicoides biting midges since the 1970s and we've been lucky enough to have a sustained programme of research, which has funded our activities for a very long period of time.

Video shows the Culicoides colonies in the laboratory.

Because we've had these Culicoides colonies in Pirbright for a very long time, it means that we know a lot about their biology already. So whether they are able to transmit bluetongue and things along those lines. So that actually gives us the advantage when we come to the genome project of being able to produce these behaviours in a laboratory rather than relying on field bought insects which may not actually behave in a way which we want them to.

Dr Mark Fife
Now these midges spread a number of very significant animal diseases. These include bluetongue virus, which we saw an outbreak in 2007, and it was because IAH was able to control this outbreak that we saved the UK economy £485M. Another potential threat to the UK is the African horse sickness virus, which is also spread by the Culicoides midge, and this virus has the potential of affecting and killing 95% of horses that it infects and this would be devastating the UK's equine industry, which employs over 250,000 employees and accounts for about £3.4Bn to the economy.

ENDS

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