Posts Tagged ‘research update’


Short blogging hiatus

May 2, 2012

That’s me up there – or at least it feels like it!

Given how busy I am at the moment, with my PhD, some public engagementy stuff and setting up the new Microbiology Twitter Journal Club (check it out here) I’m going to reduce how much blogging I am doing for a bit (hopefully no longer than 2 months).

I will still be posting links to interesting content from other blogs (like this excellent piece from Contagion on tracking live plague bacteria with bioluminescence and this fascinating post by Maryn McKenna on the long-term effects of food poisoning) but my research blogging will slow possibly to a complete stop.

However, come July when I am hopefully like this:

I shall be back!

In the meantime check out the Microbiology Twitter journal club (#microtwjc).  Even if you are not a microbiologist you can still join in (the papers will all be open access) – if you get stuck on something, just ask.  Chances are you are not the only one!


Schmallenberg virus – what we know so far

April 2, 2012

Watching the research that surrounds the emergence of a novel virus is fascinating. I’m always amazed at how quickly scientists basically dissect the disease and the organism to find out what is going on.

Today’s post is going to look at Schmallenberg virus – a novel virus affecting livestock that was first identified only in November 2011.

The story actually begins before November 2011.  It’s thought that the virus first started affecting livestock in Europe in summer 2011: cattle in Germany and the Netherlands started to show a few non-specific signs of disease (fever, diarrhoea, a drop in milk production).   The animals generally got better again after a few days and herds were generally only affected for a few weeks.  Samples were collected and tests were run to find out what was going on but the tests ruled out known viruses and it remained a mystery…

… until November.  It was then that the virus was isolated by scientists who named it after the town, Schmallenberg, that the first positive sample came from.  (I’m not sure how happy residents of Schmallenberg will be to have a virus named after their town!)

Since its first identification scientists have learnt a lot:  SBV is very closely related to a subgroup of viruses in the Orthobunyavirus group. Other viruses in this subgroup are commonly transmitted from mammal to mammal by insects like midges and mosquitoes so it has been suggested that SBV may also be transmitted this way. This would fit in with the fact that the initial cases were seen in August and September – prime insect months.

The reason we (at least in the UK) started to hear of new cases at the beginning of 2012 is probably not because animals are still getting infected (in winter there are usually no midges or mosquitos around).  We are seeing the long term consequences of animals infected by the virus when they were in their early pregnancy.  Farmers are seeing an increase in the numbers of miscarriages and stillbirths of deformed young, especially in sheep, although cattle and goats have also been affected by the virus.

Since scientists first isolated SBV it has been grown in the lab and a very small number of cattle have been experimentally infected with it, resulting in a similar picture of non-specific symptoms as was seen in cattle in the summer of 2011.  There is still a lot of work to be done in this area – we don’t yet know if animals can pass the virus directly to each other and we don’t know what is going to happen in 2012.  Exposed animals may prove to have some immunity but what about those animals who were unexposed but are close to exposed ones?

SBV is currently not thought to be zoonotic: the European Centre for Disease Prevention and control states that  it is “unlikely that this virus will cause disease in humans, but it cannot be excluded at this stage“.  It actually must be quite hard to prove that a virus doesn’t cause disease in humans.  You can do cell culture work and see if the virus affects particular cell lines, but barring injecting a large number of people with the virus, you basically have to say well x number of people have been exposed and no one has caught any disease (and you would have greater confidence the larger x is).  (Well that’s how I understand it anyway – please correct me below if I am wrong.)

Countries across Europe are trying to get a handle on the disease and plan for the months when midges and mosquitoes will be around in 2012.  In the UK, as of 30th March 2012 it had been detected 235 farms, mostly sheep farms.  However the number of cattle herds affected may increase as those cattle infected in their pregnancy in late summer are now starting to calve.   SBV is not currently a notifiable disease (although Defra does ask farmers to notify their vets if they suspect it) but I don’t know if this will change as the months go on.

I think it’s amazing how much scientists have learnt in the space of about 9 months since vets first saw the signs of infected cattle and I’ll be keeping a close eye out for the next set of results to be published.

Places to go for more info:

Latest UK SBV situation

Information from Defra on the virus

Scenarios for the future spread of Schmallenberg virus  (Veterinary Record, 2012 170 245-246 doi: 10.1136/vr.e1598 – BEHIND A PAYWALL)

Information from the ECDC

ECDC Preliminary Risk Assessment 



Lamb picture made available by Evelyn Simak under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 licence

Cow picture made available by CRV Arnhem under a CC-BY 3.0 licence


Darn it!

July 21, 2011

Not only is there a paper out discussing the characterisation of the latest E.coli bug (see posts here, here and here) but the use of badger culling to prevent bovine tuberculosis cases in cattle is also back in the news – all stuff I want to blog about but I MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE SOME RESULTS!!! (only taken 9 months…) so I hope you’ll understand if posts on these topics are somewhat delayed!

Also – my blogroll is still out of date but thankfully those that have moved have got links on their old pages directing the reader to their new pages. 

I’ll post on twitter as usual when the next post is up (or you can subscribe/add the RSS feed).

*skips back to lab to check on experiment*


Arrrrrrgh gels!

February 22, 2011

There are some days when things just don’t seem to go as planned, and then there are other days when the lab reagents are just out to get you. Yesterday was one of the latter days! Yesterday I was making (trying to make) an SDS gel.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done SDS-PAGE. In the past I’ve had some lovely gels. In the past I’ve also had some gels that were truly disastrous! I have no idea what it was I did differently.

My gel yesterday: the resolving gel set in the tube I made it in really well – just not very well between the glass plates (and mystery air bubbles appeared when I know they weren’t there when I poured it); the stacking gel set between the plates but not in the tube.

It has reached the point where I now walk away from the gel leaving it to set as one has never set whilst I’ve been in the same room as it (I’m going with the theory of the watched pot etc.)

Has anyone out there got a foolproof technique for pouring these things? Otherwise I’m going to have to carry on crossing my fingers, leaving the room, and trusting to luck…


Research Update

February 16, 2011

You may or may not have seen my slightly panicky/whiney posts on twitter yesterday re the ‘big experiment’. This was the follow up from the work I did last week: last week I isolated the T cells, had a slight crisis because I had ten fold fewer than I had expected, rejigged everything and added the T cells to 96 well plates to culture. On Friday I added the (killed) bugs and yesterday I used a (magic) kit to see if they had proliferated or not.

And the results…

Well I got some… there are some significant differences… and I have absolutely no idea what they mean because we did not get what we expected!

My supervisor last night seemed v enthusiastic (to the point that everyone in the lab has been asking me about them today) and this morning he seems almost as excited and seems to have several theories about what the results show. I on the other hand don’t really have a clue!

Oh well!

In an attempt to come to grips with it today I have minimised my lab work and am instead concentrating on the graphs I produced last night (and am probably going to have to look over some cell-mediated immunology again!) Hopefully I will have a eureka moment…