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New insights into foot and mouth disease virus
Scientists previously thought that FMDV evolution is mainly driven by mutations caused by small copying errors.
Study shows recombination is a major driver of FMDV evolution 

A study by the Pirbright Institute has revealed new insights into the evolution of foot and mouth disease virus (FMDV).

The research, published in PLOS Pathogens, found that different FMDV populations swap sections of genetic material at a far higher rate than previously thought. The information will help scientists understand how the frequency of these changes can shape virus evolution and cause new outbreaks.

Until now, scientists believed that FMDV evolution is mainly driven by mutations - caused by small copying errors that accumulate in the RNA genome of the virus when it replicates, known as substitutions. In this new study, however, researchers show that mutations caused by viral recombination events, where different FMD viruses infecting the same animal swap sections of their genome, occur almost as often as substitutions.

To show that these recombination events occur, the team injected African buffaloes with two similar FMDV strains, and then examined changes in regions of the genomes that code for proteins in the FMDV outer shell, called the capsid. The host immune system targets capsid proteins to control infection, but changes in those proteins can sometimes prevent the immune system from recognising the virus, allowing it to ‘escape’ and potentially cause a new outbreak.

Their study also revealed that levels of recombination were up to 40 times higher in the initial phase of infection compared to later on during the persistent phase, indicating that new variants of FMDV are most likely to be created soon after an animal becomes infected.

The results align with previous research by Pirbrgith that demonstrates persistently-infected African buffaloes are unlikely to generate new FMDV variations and cause new outbreaks. Researchers say this is important because African buffalo act as a reservoir for FMD, carrying the virus for years without presenting clinical signs.

“The number of recombination events we saw between the two viruses used in this research was surprising”, said Professor Bryan Charleston, Director of The Pirbright Institute. “This tells us that recombination is a major driver of FMDV evolution and understanding the mechanisms that determine how new strains are generated could help researchers analyse emerging FMD outbreaks in the field.”

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Rare chimp birth announced at Edinburgh Zoo

News Story 1
 The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) welcomed the birth of a critically endangered western chimpanzee on Monday 3 February at Edinburgh Zoo's Budongo Trail.

The baby girl will be named in the coming days through a public vote, and staff will carry out a paternity test during its first health check to determine the father.

Mother Heleen's first infant, Velu, was born in 2014, making this new baby only the second chimpanzee born in Scotland for more than 20 years.

Budongo Trail team leader Donald Gow said: "While we celebrate every birth, this one is particularly special because our new arrival is a critically endangered Western chimpanzee, a rare subspecies of chimpanzee."

Image (c) RZSS/Donald Gow. 

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BEVA offering free membership to vet students

The British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) is offering free membership to veterinary students. As part of a new initiative with the aim of encouraging more veterinary professionals into equine practice.

According to BEVA, less than one in ten veterinary students choose to work in equine practice. The association hopes that this initiative will provide insight into the field and the benefits of a career in equine medicine.

Benefits of membership include:
▪ access to a network of nearly 3,000 members
▪ special student rates to attend BEVA Congress
▪ online access to BEVA's Equine Veterinary Education (EVE) journal
▪ free access to the association's online learning platform
▪ free access to BEVA's practical veterinary apps
▪ exclusive discounts on a range of things from cinema tickets to grocery shopping.

BEVA will be releasing a series of short videos over the next few months from BEVA Council members, explaining what inspired them to work in equine practice.

Image (c) BEVA.