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

Neil Ranson, Mark Harris, Ade Whitehouse, Peter Stockley, Sheena Radford, Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Mar 2016), £1,000,000

Katie Field, BBSRC (Jan 2016), £830,381

Alan Berry, Alex Breeze, Adam Nelson, BBSRC (Jan 2016), £479,490

Alan Berry, Wellcome Trust (Oct 2015), £752,365

Julie Aspden, MRC (Oct 2015), £633,020

Steve Sait, NERC (Oct 2015), £386,061

Urwin, Howard Atkinson, BBSRC (Oct 2015), £200,293

Eric Hewitt, Andrew Macdonald, Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund (Oct 2015), £46,621

Ade Whitehouse, Alison Ashcroft, Ian Carr, BBSRC (Sep 2015), £438,975

Dave Westhead, Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research (Sep 2015), £430,567

Shaunna Burke, Andrea Utley, Sarah Astill, Arts Council of England (Sep 2015), £80,594

Samit Chakrabarty, Ronaldo Ichiyama, Intl Foundn for Research in Paraplegia (Aug 2015), £93,000

Eileen Ingham, John Fisher, EPSRC (Jul 2015), £1,458,439

Anastasia Zhuravleva, BBSRC (Jul 2015), £483,019

Alex O'Neill, MRC (Jul 2015), £249,822

Ade Whitehouse, Richard Foster, Cancer Research UK (Jul 2015), £201,034

Ronaldo Ichiyama, Jim Deuchars, Sue Deuchars, Wings For Life Spinal Cord Research (Jul 2015), £123,895

Helen Miller, ABNA Ltd (Jul 2015), £22,968

Martin Stacey and colleagues in FMH, MRC (Jun 2015), £426,475

Adrian Goldman, Sarah Harris, Roman Tuma, BBSRC (Jun 2015), £420,693

Elwyn Isaac, EU (Jun 2015), £238,915

Christine Foyer, BBSRC (Jun 2015), £160,401

Adrian Goldman, EU (Jun 2015), £116,331

David Brockwell, Sheena Radford, Innovate UK (Jun 2015), £113,378

Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, EPSRC (Jun 2015), £93,672

Michelle Peckham, Peter Knight, Thomas Edwards, BBSRC (May 2015), £404,987

Michelle Peckham, Ed White, Peter Knight, BHF (May 2015), £208,184

Dave Westhead, Sheena Radford, Alex Breeze, BBSRC (May 2015), £51,021

Steve Clapcote, Vitaflo International Ltd (May 2015), £33,703

Les Firbank, Joe Holden, Pippa Chapman, NERC (Apr 2015), £388,726

Samit Chakrabarty, David Steenson, BBSRC (Apr 2015), £120,103

Paul Millner, Gin Jose, Sarah Aickin, DSTL Porton Down (Apr 2015), £63,407

Chris Hassell, David Lewis, The Physiological Society (Apr 2015), £6,900

Andrew Tuplin, Royal Society (Mar 2015), £15,000

Yoselin Benitez-Alfonso, Royal Society (Mar 2015), £14,770

Patricija Van Oosten-Hawle, Royal Society (Mar 2015), £13,960

Stuart Egginton, BHF (Mar 2015), £272,979

Keith Hamer, Department of Energy & Climate Change (Mar 2015), £58,066

Andrew Macdonald, Yorkshire Kidney Research Fund (Mar 2015), £41,171

Les Firbank, DEFRA Dept for Env. Food & Rural Affairs (Feb 2015), £20,000

Ian Hope, Marie-Anne Shaw, BBSRC (Jan 2015), £381,998

Paul Knox, BBSRC (Jan 2015), £5,000

Andrew Peel, BBSRC (Jan 2015), £359,077

Christine Foyer, BBSRC (Jan 2015), £408,334

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

Mike McPherson, Christoph Walti, DSTL Porton Down (Jan 2015), £625,125

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

Alison Ashcroft, Peter Stockley, Sheena Radford, Nicola Stonehouse, David Brockwell, Darren Tomlinson, BBSRC (Jan 2015), £340,937

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

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


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