Bovine herpesvirus-1 causes a highly contagious respiratory and genital tract disease in cattle, with symptoms including high fever, weight loss, cough, excessive salivation, conjunctivitis and breathing difficulties, and a new research project at The Roslin Institute in Scotland is using a precise genome editing technology — CRISPR-Cas9 — in bovine cells to identify genes that the virus requires for replication.
Once they identify the genes, scientists could use genome editing to alter or even remove the genes from cattle and prevent the virus from spreading, the institute said in an announcement.
As part of the project, funded by the U.K. government’s Biotechnology & Biological Sciences Research Council, Dr. Robert Dalziel of the Roslin Institute worked with the institute’s public engagement team to develop an interactive school workshop for 16- to 18-year-old students called “Cows, Coughs & CRISPR.”
The workshop is an opportunity for students to get hands on with real scientific equipment and to learn about genome editing in the Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre (EBSOC), a purpose-built engagement laboratory, the institute said.
DNA analysis was presented in the context of the real-world problem of disease spread on cattle farms. The workshop also had opportunities for students to work alongside the scientists from Dalziel’s group and discuss the ethics of using genome editing in food production.
During the workshop, students were taken through the story of the bovine herpesvirus research project. They used similar techniques and were presented with the same questions that the researchers deal with on a daily basis, the institute said.
EBSOC education officer Jayne Quoiani with the Roslin Institute explained, "It felt important to all of us that the workshop should reflect closely the actual work that was ongoing in the research group as well as fitting in with the school curriculum. We now have a workshop aimed at higher biology and advanced higher biology pupils that highlights the research process by providing them with a scenario and asking them, 'What would you do next?'"
According to the institute, feedback from students and teachers after the workshop was extremely positive. All students surveyed said the workshop increased their confidence in studying biotechnology and molecular biology topics and that it increased or reinforced their understanding for genetic modification.
"Today was much more realistic than our usual science class; we don't normally hear much about what scientists are researching and how they do it. I thought it was exciting, I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and had a great day," a student from North Lanarkshire, U.K., said.
The Roslin Institute said the “Cows, Coughs & CRISPR” workshop is now part of EBSOC’s International & College Learning Program and is available for international and college groups to book.
Dr. Inga Dry, a Roslin Institute core scientist, concluded, "The students seem to particularly enjoy the feeling of being an active participant in the research process by thinking about what they would do and applying their knowledge -- and it hasn’t just been the students who have benefited. I have learned a lot from the EBSOC team in how I communicate messages to an audience, whatever their age or background. I feel that the skills I have developed will also improve the communication of my own research at conferences and other scientific events."