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Working backwards to understand Schmallenberg virus

M. Varela, E. Schnettler, M. Caporale, C. Murgia, G. Barry, M. McFarlane and others

SCHMALLENBERG virus (SBV) is a recently emerged, insect-borne virus, which has been affecting domesticated ruminants in Europe. SBV infection causes a mild disease in adult cattle but infection of susceptible pregnant animals can be associated with musculoskeletal and central nervous system malformations in stillborn or newborn lambs and calves. This study aimed to improve understanding of the disease mechanism and tropism of SBV and virus-host cell interaction.

Using molecular biological tools, the researchers designed and assembled the viral genome synthetically, in a form that could be easily introduced and replicated in cultured cells. From these cells, they recovered a virus with identical infection properties to the wild-type SBV. This approach, known as ‘reverse genetics’, allowed control of a viral genome and identification of a gene, NSs, involved in protecting the virus against the immune response of infected animals. The researchers made viruses missing the NSs gene and found that this mutant was less virulent in mice than the wild-type SBV.

The researchers also discovered that SBV rapidly grows …

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