Scientists make progress in fight against virus killing captive elephants

Apr 10, 2013
Scientists make progress in fight against virus killing captive elephants

(Phys.org) —Scientists may be a step closer towards the development of a vaccine against a virus that is killing scores of Asian elephants, many of them in captivity.

The majestic Asian elephant is listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and is threatened by loss of habitat, poaching and illegal trade. There are believed to be around 40-50,000 animals left in the wild.

Zoos around the world are playing a vital role in conservation efforts. However, their work over the last 20 years has been severely hampered by a fatal haemorrhagic disease caused by elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHVs).

The disease is usually deadly for young aged between one and four years, and while mainly a concern for captive elephants the virus is also found in wild animals. Anti-viral medications have been used to treat infected animals but their efficacy is unknown.

EEHVs were discovered 15 years ago and are known to have killed 80 but the viruses are difficult to study and none of them have been isolated in the laboratory.

However, now a team of scientists from the University of Glasgow, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh has deciphered the genetic maps of the two most lethal kinds of EEHV.

The researchers used high-throughput DNA sequencing technology to map the genomes of two viruses and discovered many genes not found in other herpesviruses.

The findings will help scientists improve diagnostic tests and develop vaccines with the aim of helping protect the flagship species from extinction.

Dr Andrew Davison, of the Medical Research Council – University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, who led the study, said: "It is vital that we undertake successful conservation activities to prevent the extinction of these wonderful animals.

"However, despite the best efforts of conservationists around the world, attempts at breeding are being threatened by deadly EEHVs over which we have very little power at present.

"This research should bring us closer to improving diagnoses of infected elephants and more importantly help us develop vaccines against the viruses."

Mr Mick Watson, Director of ARK-Genomics, a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) funded national capability at The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh where the sequencing was carried out, said: "High throughput DNA sequencing is revolutionising the discovery, detection and analysis of all pathogens."

Prof Falko Steinbach, Head of the Mammalian Virology Group at the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) said: "This is an excellent example of the power of collaboration between three institutions involved in virus surveillance and research."

The research is published in the Journal of Virology.

Explore further: Stanford researchers rethink 'natural' habitat for wildlife

More information: Wilkie, G. et al. Complete genome sequences of elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses 1A and 1B determined directly from fatal cases, J. Virol. 3 April 2013 , doi:10.1128/JVI.00655-13 , http://jvi.asm.org/content/early/2013/03/28/JVI.00655-13.abstract

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sumatran elephants could be extinct in 30 years

Jan 24, 2012

The Sumatran elephant could be extinct in the wild within three decades unless immediate steps are taken to slow the breakneck pace of deforestation, environmentalists warned Tuesday.

Jumbo-sized discovery made in Malaysia

Jan 14, 2009

New data released today by the Wildlife Conservation Society and Malaysia's Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) reveals that a population of endangered Asian elephants living in a Malaysian park ...

Panel: India must secure elephant reserves

Sep 01, 2010

(AP) -- India should protect its elephant population by securing its wildlife reserves, curbing poaching and restricting development in the corridors they use to travel between forested areas, a panel recommended.

Recommended for you

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Apr 18, 2014

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Apr 18, 2014

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.