Faculty of Biological Sciences

Research Bulletin

Virus 'barcodes' offer rapid detection of mutated strains

14th May 2012

Researchers are developing a way to 'barcode' viral diseases to test new outbreaks for potentially lethal mutations.

The Faculty's Dr Julian Hiscox and Dr John Barr are working with the Health Protection Agency Porton (HPA) to build a bank of molecular signatures that will help identify the severity of virus infection from characteristic changes seen in cells. Currently the team is barcoding different strains of influenza virus and human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) - a virus associated with the onset of asthma in young children.

"Diseases such as flu infect and hijack our cells, turning them into virus producing factories," says Dr Hiscox. "The infection causes the balance of proteins in a cell to change - some proteins are overproduced and others suppressed. Which proteins are affected and by how much varies depending on the type of virus, allowing us to identify a unique barcode of disease for each."

The research, published today (14 May) in Proteomics, investigates changes in lung cells infected with swine flu from the 2009 outbreak compared with seasonal flu. The team used a labelling technique called SILAC to measure and compare thousands of different proteins in a sample.

This technique was used alongside mass spectrometry to identify the proteins most affected by viral infection and used these as molecular signatures to provide the 'barcode' of disease. The paper reports how several processes in the cell were affected by the virus, with most changes seen in proteins involved in cell replication.

"Swine flu affects the lungs in a similar way to seasonal flu and this was reflected in the barcodes we found for each," explains Dr Barr. "Using this test might have been a way to identify how lethal the 2009 swine flu pandemic was going to be, lessening worldwide panic.

"Our next step is to test more lethal strains of flu, such as bird flu, to see how the barcodes differ. Flu virus frequently mutates, resulting in new strains which may be life-threatening and become pandemic. If we can test new strains using our method, we can determine their potential impact on health by comparing their barcode of disease to those of viruses already studied."

The group from Leeds has already barcoded two types of HRSV which can cause severe respiratory disease in young children. Co-author Professor Miles Carroll of HPA Porton says: "We have focused our work on common respiratory viruses, such as flu and HRSV, but this method could be applied to a wide variety of viruses, including tropical diseases that are prone to sudden outbreaks and can be lethal."

The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).


Recent Grants

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haematology, Cancer Research UK (Jan 2015), £700,521

Sheena Radford, Mark Harris, Peter Stockley, Alan Berry, Alex O'Neill, Thomas Edwards, Adrian Goldman, Anastasia Zhuravleva, Wellcome Trust (Jan 2015), £443,015

Bill Kunin, EU (Jan 2015), £157,490

John Colyer, Leeds Teaching Hospitals Charitable Fund (Jan 2015), £40,000

Chris Hassall, Royal Society (Dec 2014), £14,500

Ryan Seipke, Royal Society (Nov 2014), £13,700

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £749,865

Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £396,565

Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stckley, Sheena Radford, Nic Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £340,937

Les Firbank, Joe Holden, BBSRC (Oct 2014), £210,302

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Chemistry and Pathology, anatomy and Tumour Biology, Dr Hadwen Trusy (Oct 2014), £194,475

Paul Knox, EU (Oct 2014), £167,229

Martin Stacey and colleagues in Medicine & Health, Pfizer (Oct 2014), £90,453

Darren Tomlinson and colleagues in Experimental Oncology, YCR (Oct 2014), £69,480

Andrew Macdonald, Jamel Mankouri, Kidney Research Fund UK (Oct 2014), £58,878

Mike McPherson and colleagues in Dentistry and Engineering, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2014), £58,437

Dave Westhead and colleagues in Experimental Haemotology, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2014), £281,424

Emmanuel Paci and colleagues in Chemistry, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £636,759

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £371,598

Lars Jeuken, Stephen Evans, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £333,684

Lars Jeuken, BBSRC (Sep 2014), £313,463

Michelle Peckham, Mark Harris, Rao Sivaprasadarao, Eileen Ingham, Nic Stonehouse, Nikita Gamper, Wellcome Trust (Sep 2014), £192,763

Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Aug 2014), £355,253

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Aug 2014), £271,094

Darren Tomlinson, Mike McPherson, Technology Strategy Board (Aug 2014), £98,665

Peter Henderson, Leverhulme Trust (Aug 2014), £15,222

Mike McPherson (and colleagues in the School of Chemistry), EPSRC (Jul 2014), £819,880

Peter Stockley, Neil Ranson, BBSRC (Jul 2014), £455,787

Sheena Radford, Univesity of Michigan (Jul 2014), £138,452

Ryan Seipke, British Society Antimicrobial Chemistry (Jun 2014), £11,960

John Trinick, BHF (Jun 2014), £222,614

Chris West, Leverhulme Trust (Jun 2014), £181,241

Jon Lippiat, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (May 2014), £125,174

Christine Foyer, Royal Society (May 2014), £24,000

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