Bluetongue virus (BTV) uses unique viral enzymes to replicate, scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have revealed.
This understanding is significant because it may help scientists develop antiviral therapies to treat many human pathogens.
"Replication of the viral genome is the 'heart' of a virus. It is the key process that allows establishment of infection. Understanding the fundamental processes of how bluetongue virus initiates and sustains infection will help us determine the best way to prevent and control bluetongue disease," said Professor Polly Roy from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Bluetongue disease is transmitted to ruminant animals like cows when they are bitten by a midge carrying the virus.
The researchers say when bluetongue virus enters animal cells, infection is initiated through a process which requires a number of enzymes to work together.
They say that they could learn this with the aid of a range of research methods, including the use of genetically engineered proteins, and by looking at the 3D structure of the enzymes.
Now that the scientists know that it is possible to synthesise the structures that allow replication of the virus in the lab, they believe they will be able to examine the effects of viral mutations on replication.
Recently, a DNA-based system has been developed that will provide breakthrough experimental techniques of relevance to many viruses that infect humans and animals.
It will also pave the way for the development of a highly safe, and successful vaccine against bluetongue disease.
"Viruses depend on the cells they infect for certain functions that enable them to exist. This dependence limits the number of possible targets for the development of antiviral therapy. Bluetongue virus uses unique viral enzymes to replicate. At the Roy laboratory we have been using bluetongue as a model system to study detailed molecular processes for many years. This contributes to a better understanding of other similar RNA genome viruses, such as rotavirus, which are also responsible for a large burden of disease in humans," said Professor Roy.
"The knowledge accumulated through this work will have an impact on the fundamental understanding of the structure-function relationships underpinning bluetongue virus replication. It will also contribute to the understanding of viral replication in general and help us to understand the very essence of infection process of viruses. Understanding the fundamental biological processes of virus replication is the best route to achieving effective control of the diseases caused by the virus, in a way that is both clinically effective and safe," he added.