Once the virus was computationally identified, the team had to find a way to grow the virus so that it could be studied further. Because the virus infects boa constrictors, the ideal way to grow it, the team reasoned, would be to infect boa constrictor cells, but no such cell line existed. So DeRisi and Stenglein turned to a third snake, named Juliet.
Juliet was a red tailed boa owned by Chris Sanders, who'd had her since his days as a young veterinary student. She was about 20 years old when Balthazar's genome was being assembled and was dying of lymphoma. When she ultimately succumbed to the cancer, Sanders harvested her kidneys and the DeRisi laboratory was able to use them to make a boa constrictor cell line.
The scientists took virus from diseased snakes, added it to Juliet's kidney cells growing in petri dishes and showed that the snakes accumulated exactly the same "clumps" of proteins as had been observed in the sick snakes from the Academy. Antibodies raised against the virus showed that these clumps were formed from arenavirus protein, further strengthening the association of this new virus and the deadly disease.
In solving this longstanding veterinary mystery and setting the stage for treatments, vaccines, and perhaps even eradication of this disease, the scientists also discovered an unexpected new branch of virus biology: The viruses they found appear to be a combination of arenaviruses and filoviruses, neither of which has been known to infect reptiles.
|Contact: Jennifer O'Brien|
University of California - San Francisco