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K-State Today

August 31, 2017



Veterinary researchers' discovery draws spotlight attention

By Communications and Marketing

This schematic diagram illustrates the genome organization of a recombinant virus called EVG 08/NC_USA/2015. The section in green represents the insertion point of a genetic protein that gives the virus the capability to evade the host animal's immune res

A discovery by veterinary researchers at Kansas State University reveals how certain viruses have developed a unique strategy to make themselves survive better in host animals.

The newly discovered virus was initially identified during a diagnostic case investigation at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Virology researchers were asked to assist in identifying the genetic characteristics of an enterovirus, Enterovirus G, which was found in neonatal pigs with diarrhea.

The discovery is highlighted in the July issue of the Journal of Virology as one of its five spotlight articles, "A Cross-Order Recombinant of Enterovirus and Torovirus."

"Enteroviruses are viruses found in the intestines and are genetically quite distant in the order from toroviruses," said Ying Fang, professor of molecular virology in the College of Veterinary Medicine and a corresponding author of the article. "Genetic recombination is one of the mechanisms through which viruses are known to evolve, but you would not expect to see such an unusual case of cross-order genetic recombination of viruses. It is very rare because the large genetic distance between those two orders, which are quite far apart."

Fang said the torovirus gene insertion encodes a protein called papain-like protease, or PLP, that functions in a number of ways to suppress the host immune response. This increases the virus's capability to infect the host and to replicate inside the cells of the host animal.

Pengcheng Shang, a doctoral student in pathobiology who works with Fang, performed functional analysis of the PLP protein and is the first author of the article.

"Like most enteroviral infections, Enterovirus G infection is generally considered to be asymptomatic, and there is only limited evidence that Enterovirus G is associated with clinical disease," Pengcheng said. "The acquisition of a foreign immune antagonist by the particular Enterovirus G that we isolated may explain the pathogenicity of this virus in the natural host animals."

The research and journal article also were the work of Benjamin Hause, a former molecular virologist at the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and now an adjunct faculty member in the College of Veterinary Medicine's diagnostic medicine and pathobiology department; and also co-authored by Saurav Misra, a structural biologist and adjunct associate professor in the biochemistry and molecular biophysics department in the university's College of Arts and Sciences.

Hause describes himself as a "bug hunter," and used genetic sequencing equipment and techniques to help identify viruses found in samples submitted to the diagnostic laboratory.

"This journal article is a great example of collaboration between diagnosticians and researchers in our university," said Gary Anderson, director of the diagnostic laboratory. "Having a scientific article chosen for a spotlight feature by such a prestigious journal as the Journal of Virology is significant."