Professor Roy continues "When we injected the virus particles that we had assembled in the test tube into some midge cells they started behaving and replicating just as we would expect a wild virus to do. This was a really exciting moment. What had previously been a complex of proteins and other molecules whirred into activity and started making copies of itself."
Currently, Bluetongue vaccines are produced by chemical treatment of virulent viruses to inactivate them. These vaccines are effective at preventing the disease, but because it is difficult to tell the difference between animals that have been vaccinated from those that have recovered from an infection. This makes controlling outbreaks much more difficult.
This new approach provides an assembly kit for the virus which could allow scientists to design vaccines with useful properties. Developing a vaccine that is tagged with a marker, for example, would make it easier to tell the difference between animals that have been vaccinated and those that have suffered the disease.
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said "This is an exciting development and offers great potential for future vaccine development. Using the tools of synthetic biology, we are now able to assemble viruses piece by piece in a way that gives us far greater understanding of how they work. This approach could allow us to make safer and more effective vaccines against a range of viral diseases.
"However, whilst these technologies have great potential benefits we must ensure that scientists are mindful of the wider social and ethical implications of their work. In June 2010 BBSRC published the findings of a Synthetic Biology Dialogue which was carried out in partnership with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The dialogue explored people
|Contact: Mike Davies|
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council