Scientists are one step closer to understanding how the Schmallenberg virus works, potentially paving the way for the development of a new vaccine or novel control strategy.

Key findings from a study of the disease carried out by the University of Glasgow comes at a time when the government is under growing pressure to develop a suitable vaccine following reported losses from the disease of up to 50% in some early lambing flocks.

By synthesising and changing the Schmallenberg genome, researchers from the MRC Centre for Virus Research at Glasgow University discovered that the virus (SBV) prefers to attack neuron cells, explaining why it infects and damages the brain.

This results in muscular defects, such as abnormally flexed legs, often seen in stillborn animals when the virus is transmitted from an infected mother to her offspring.

Recent work, led by Alain Kohl at Glasgow University and Esther Schettler, also gave the first insight into how infected midges respond to visuses such as SBV.

These insects control the viral infection by mounting a complex immune response that ensures they are not adverseley affected by the virus. This work may help inform the development of novel control strategies that target the insect rather than the animal.

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