The Pirbright Institute has recently been awarded joint funding with The Roslin Institute to research how the deadly Marek’s disease virus (MDV) causes tumors in poultry and to create a more effective vaccine.
MDV is highly contagious and is a major threat to the poultry industry, with losses estimated to be up to $2 billion worldwide. Nearly 22 billion vaccine doses a year are used in an attempt to control the disease, but the virus continues to evolve and form increasingly virulent strains.
The funding, awarded by the U.K.'s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), will allow the Pirbright and Roslin researchers to understand the pathways involved in tumor creation during MDV infection.
Dr. Yongxiu Yao, leader of the research, said, "By using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system, we intend to disrupt the gene for a virus protein called Meq, which previous data have suggested is a tumor inducing factor. By editing the Meq gene and disrupting its binding with other proteins, we will be able to have a clearer understanding of the pathways involved in tumor formation, which will help us to create better vaccines.”
The modifications to the virus made by the Pirbright team will be analyzed by Roslin researchers to identify the major pathways that are most essential for tumor production and indicate the best targets for future vaccines, BBSRC said.
The evolution of highly virulent MDV strains has proved extremely problematic for the poultry industry, as many of the vaccines currently used do not induce sufficient protection against infection, according to the announcement. The scientists will, therefore, investigate Meq’s role in a highly virulent strain and will attempt to reduce its virulence by deleting and swapping the Meq gene.
If the alteration of the Meq gene in these strains is successful, it could pave the way for a new vaccine that is able to protect against the most destructive strains of MDV, which, in turn, would improve poultry welfare and cut losses to the poultry industry, BBSRC said.