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Pirbright destroys rinderpest samples
“The biggest risk of rinderpest re-appearing comes from an accidental escape from a laboratory."

Project to reduce risk of accidental release from the lab 

Scientists at the Pirbright Institute have destroyed the last archive samples of rinderpest virus, to reduce the risk of the virus re-emerging through accidental or deliberate release.

Rinderpest virus caused the most lethal cattle disease ever known, but after a huge global campaign it became the second disease to be eradicated, after smallpox in 2011.

However, at the time, more than 40 laboratories in 36 countries held samples of the virus, putting the world at risk of a reoccurrence. The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN (FAO), designated some labs - including Pirbright - as Rinderpest Holding Facilities.

A project called ’Sequence and Destroy’ was launched to destroy the samples (except a minimal number for reference), after recording genetic information through full-genome sequencing. Pirbright has destroyed more than 2,500 samples under the project.

Dr Michael Baron, honorary fellow at the institute, said: “The biggest risk of rinderpest re-appearing comes from an accidental escape from a laboratory, something that might be possible in the future if stocks are kept, even though no one is working on the virus. But at the same time we do not want to destroy what might be important biological information.

“By capturing that information and then destroying the oldest and largest archive of the actual virus, we hope to set an example to other laboratories and encourage them to get rid of their remaining lab samples.”

Dr Carrie Batten, chair for the Rinderpest Holding Facility Network, added: “This is a culmination of years of work by Pirbright scientists and our international collaborators; virus samples from as far back as the 1950’s have been destroyed. I feel privileged to have had a part to play in securing our future from rinderpest.”

Image © Pirbright Institute

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RSPCA braced for ‘hectic hedgehog month’

News Story 1
 The RSPCA says that it is bracing itself for a ‘hectic hedgehog month’ after calls to the charity about the creatures peaked this time last year.

More than 10,000 calls about hedgehogs were made to the RSPCA’s national helpline in 2018, 1,867 of which were in July. This compares with just 133 calls received in February of the same year.

Evie Button, the RSPCA’s scientific officer, said: “July is our busiest month for hedgehogs. Not only do calls about hedgehogs peak, but so do admissions to our four wildlife centres as members of the public and our own officers bring in orphaned, sick or injured animals for treatment and rehabilitation.” 

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ASF traces found in seized meat at NI airport

More than 300kg of illegal meat and dairy products were seized at Northern Ireland’s airports in June, DAERA has revealed.

A sample of these were tested at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, resulting in the detection of African swine fever DNA fragments.

DAERA said that while the discovery does not pose a significant threat to Northern Ireland’s animal health status, it underlines the importance of controls placed on personal imports of meat and dairy products. Holidaymakers travelling overseas are being reminded not to bring any animal or plant products back home.