BEIJING, Oct. 18 (Xinhua) - Chinese scientists have unraveled the three dimensional structure of the African swine fever virus, laying a solid foundation for developing effective and safe vaccines against the disease.
File photo: VCG
The research, jointly conducted by scientists at the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), was published in the latest issue of the academic journal Science.
Bu Zhigao, director of the Harbin Veterinary Research Institute of CAAS, said China is facing a great challenge in the control the spread of African swine fever. It is urgent to develop a more powerful technology tool including a vaccine to prevent the disease.
"The new breakthrough in unveiling the fine structure of the virus is important fundamental research, which will provide clues to explore fundamental mechanisms for infection, pathogenicity and immunology of African swine fever, as well as vaccine development," Bu said.
Scientists successfully isolated the epidemic strain of the African swine fever virus, which is spreading in China. It took the research team four months to collect over 100 TB of high-quality data.
The research showed the virus has a unique structure of five layers: the outer membrane, capsid, double-layer inner membrane, core shell and genome.
It contains more than 30,000 protein subunits, forming a spherical particle with a diameter of about 260 nanometers.
The study identified structural proteins of the virus, revealing potential protective antigens and key information on the epitope, the part of an antigen molecule to which an antibody attaches itself.
The research also showed the complex arrangement and interaction mode of the structural proteins and proposed the possible assembly mechanism of the virus, providing an important clue as to how it invades host cells and evades and antagonizes the host antiviral immunity.
African swine fever is believed to infect only pigs. No humans or other species are known to have been infected.
China reported its first case of the disease in August 2018 in the northeastern province of Liaoning. Later outbreaks were reported in other provincial regions.
China has the largest pig-producing quantity in the world, and it is an arduous task to control the African swine fever. China has conducted lab research on the vaccine against the disease, but the vaccines under development are still not perfect, according to Bu.
Previous developments of the vaccines used traditional methods, lacking clear theoretical guidance. The recent research may provide help for new designs of the vaccines, Bu said.