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Lab Overview

Research at the Infectious Diseases Laboratory has aimed at deepening the knowledge on different aspects of African swine fever virus (ASFV) biology towards development of vaccine candidates, and evaluating relevant epidemiological aspects of infectious diseases namely zoonosis and emergent diseases affecting livestock, companion animals and wildlife, and development of animal health information systems and risk analysis assessments.

The Infectious Diseases Lab (IDL) is organized in two different units:

African Swine Fever (ASF) Unit

Conducting studies related to the host response to relevant pathogens, namely African swine fever (ASF) aiming the modulation of host immunological responses towards development of vaccines, diagnostic and therapeutic tools;

Epidemiology Unit

 

Conducting epidemiological evaluation of infectious diseases namely zoonosis and emergent diseases affecting livestock species, companion animals and wildlife, mechanisms of disease resistance, development of animal health information systems and risk analysis assessments

The current and future research objectives of the lab are summarized as:

- Characterization of the biological role of several non assigned ASFV genes involved in viral replication and transcription; Identify ASFV-host cell interactions at molecular level aiming at designing effective strategies for the development of vaccines against the disease;

- Development of risk-based surveillance strategies for infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance, presently of bluetongue and wild boar tuberculosis; characterization of epidemiological risk factors such as the wild fauna-livestock-environment interface at the ecosystem level and its role on the maintenance or reappearance of pathogens relevant in public health such as Mycobaterium bovis and Brucella melitensis; ecology and vectorial competence of Ornithodoros erraticus and Culicoides; development of diagnostic tools, including rapid and sensitive diagnostic molecular methods, for the detection of Mycobacterium bovis in wild ungulates; epidemiological evaluation of national control and eradication programs of several infectious diseases, namely, the field use of vaccination against bovine brucellosis and the monitoring of Salmonella prevalence and of antimicrobial resistance on swine and pig meat; implementation of a swine health information system (SIRO) at national level in close collaboration with the National Livestock Directorate (DGVA).

 

 Highlights


The African swine fever (ASF) unit, developed research regarding different aspects of African swine fever virus (ASFV) infection towards the development of vaccine models against the disease and on the role of arthropod vectors of the etiological agent.

ASF is a devastating disease affecting domestic and wild pigs, caused by a complex virus belonging to the Asfarviridae family, able to cause significant socio-economic losses in affected countries, being a major threat for the global pig industry. Due to the fact that no vaccine has been obtained, and to the complexity of the different epidemiological scenarios involving domestic pigs, wild boars and vectors (argasids, Ornithodororos spp), the prevention, control, and eradication of ASF is mainly based on its early detection and implementation of strict (and challenging) sanitary measures., After its eradication in early 90´s in Portugal and Spain, nowadays the disease is enzootic in the great majority of Sub-Saharan countries and in the Island of Sardinia (Italy). In 2007 it was declared in Georgia where from it rapidly spread to other Eastern European countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus), and to EU since 2014, namely to Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Check Republic, Romania and recently to Hungary. 

Researchers of the ASF unit have developed comprehensive studies on the dynamics and role of Ornithodoros erraticus  in the epidemiology of the disease, on virus-cell interactions and on functional characterization of several ASFV genes involved in viral transcription and replication, towards the development of rational design of antiviral molecules and efficient and safe vaccines, namely by the generation of defective infectious single cycle (DISC) viral particles. Besides the studies on the spatiotemporal of ASFV DNA replication and on dynamics of subnuclear domains and chromatin epigenetic markers to better understand the role of the host cell nucleus during the early phase of infection, the biological activity of several viral proteins has been characterized in vitro and the corresponding viral mutants generated (A104R, I215L, QP509L, Q706L, P1192R).

The Epidemiology Unit research (EpU) focus on applied studies of diseases in animal populations and on factors determining its occurrence over time aiming at identifying opportunities for enhancement of animal and public health, namely on zoonosis, and also on animal productivity and welfare.

The EpU follows the One Health transdisciplinary approach with collaborations with national and international laboratories, official and private veterinary services. The EpU is  a  partner in the development of the national animal health information and decision support system for the national animal health authority (DGAV) and also supports official and private veterinary development of surveillance, control and eradication programs for animal diseases, such as the Bluetongue Disease national surveillance plan, the Aujeszky's Disease national eradication programme, or the Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis and Bovine Viral Diarrhoea voluntary herd control programmes. The Unit participates actively in the training of official and private veterinarians in animal health workshops.

 

 Selected Publications


 

Simões, M., Martins, C., Ferreira, F. 2015. Alterations of nuclear architecture and epigenetic mechanisms during African swine fever virus infection. Viruses 7: 4978-4996.  

Coelho, J., Martins, C., Ferreira, F., Leitão, A. 2015. African swine fever virus ORF P1192R codes for a functional type II DNA topoisomerase. Virology, 474: 82–93.  

Freitas, F.B., Frouco, G., Martins, C., Leitão, A., Ferreira, F. 2016. In vitro inhibition of African swine fever virus-topoisomerase II disrupts viral replication. Antiviral Res. 134: 34–41.  

Frouco, G., Freitas, F.B., Coelho, J., Leitão, A., Martins, C., Ferreira, F 2017. DNA-binding properties of the African swine fever virus pA104R, a histone-like protein involved in viral replication and transcription. J. Virol. JVI.02498-16.  

Ribeiro, R., Otte, J., Madeira, S., Hutchings, G.H., Boinas, F. 2015. Experimental Infection of Ornithodoros erraticus sensu stricto with Two Portuguese African Swine Fever Virus Strains. Study of Factors Involved in the Dynamics of Infection in Ticks. PLoS One. 10:e0137718.

Wilson, A.J., Ribeiro, R., Boinas, F. 2013. Use of a Bayesian network model to identify factors associated with the presence of the tick Ornithodoros erraticus on pig farms in southern Portugal. Prev Vet Med. 110:45-53. 

Ribeiro R, Wilson Aj, Nunes T, Ramilo Dw, Amador R, Madeira S, Baptista F., Harrup Le, Lucientes J, Boinas F. 2015. Spatial and temporal distribution of Culicoides species in mainland Portugal (2005-2010). Results of the Portuguese Entomological Surveillance Programme. PLoS One. 10:e0124019.   

Santos, N., Almeida, V., Gortázar, V., Correia-Neves, M. 2015. Patterns of Mycobacterium tuberculosis-complex excretion and characterization of super-shedders in naturally-infected wild boar and red deer. Vet. Res.  46,129.   

Seixas, R., Nunes, T., Machado, J., Tavares, L., Owen, S. P., Bernardo, F., & Oliveira, M. 2017. Demographic characterization and spatial cluster analysis of human Salmonella 1, 4, [5], 12: i: - infections in Portugal: A 10 year study. J. Infect. Public Health, 18, 187–197.  

Caetano, M.C., Afonso, F., Ribeiro, R., Fonseca, A.P., Abernethy, D.A., Boinas, F. 2014. Control of Bovine Brucellosis from Persistently Infected Holdings Using RB51 Vaccination with Test-and-Slaughter: A Comparative Case Report from a High Incidence Area in Portugal. Transbound Emerg. Dis. 63, e39-e47.

Simões, M., Martins, C., Ferreira, F. 2013. Host DNA Damage Response facilitates African Swine Fever Virus infection. Vet. Microbiol. 165: 140-147.