Members of a research team at the University of Texas Medical Branch that is investigating a mosquito transmitted virus first collected three decades ago in Israel’s Negev Desert which could lead to development of new vaccines and drugs, visited with Guidry News Service at the Galveston National Laboratory. Listen
“It all started with his virus collection,” said Dr. Scott Weaver, senior author on the study, referring to Dr. Robert Tesh, director of the World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses, who had begun his research at Yale University.
“I had communication with, and subsequently met with, Dr, Joseph Peleg who was an Israeli virologist and I went to visit him at Hebrew University,” Dr. Tesh said. “He gave me some viruses he had that he was not able to identify that he had isolated in Israel. And this eilat virus was one of them.”
Dr. Tesh said that it turned out to be a novel virus. Dr. Weaver agreed.
“The surprise was that this was a virus that, based on Dr. Tesh’s work, only seemed to replicate in mosquito cells – not in vertebrates – it didn’t cause disease in animals when they were inoculated, it didn’t replicate in vertebrate cells in culture,” Dr. Weaver said, explaining that through genome sequencing it turned out that the eilat virus is a “very different kind of alphavirus”.
Dr. Weaver said the study provides very good opportunities for the researchers.
“The first is, we now can do experiments to try to understand the roles of those different genes, to find what their partners are in host cells that they are and are not able to infect, and often when you find a protein or another molecule inside of a cell that interacts with the virus and allows it to replicate and cause disease, that then becomes a target for drug development – to develop anti-viral drugs,” he said.
Participating in the conversation by speakerphone was Farooq Nasar, a UTMB graduate student who is the lead author of a paper on the virus. His report is now posted online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Abstract). Nasar said that the unique nature of the virus makes it possible to compare it to other alphaviruses to determine their ability to infect a variety of animals, including humans.
"I would like to add something outside of the the science here," Nasar said. "I am an older graduate student and want to thank these two gentlemen sitting in front of you, Drs. Tesh and Scott, because if they weren't encouraging and very nurturing this project would not have been possible."
In closing the interview, Nasar expressed gratitude for the opportunities afforded to him by UTMB at Galveston and his colleagues.
UTMB News Release