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    Researchers Identify First Known Relatives of the Rubella Virus at NMRC Lab



    Story by Robert W. Mitchell 

    Naval Medical Research Center

    SILVER SPRING, Md. - Recent discovery of two new rubella-related animal viruses by a collaborative team of researchers including Naval Medical Research Center’s (NMRC) Biological Defense Research Directorate (BDRD) could have a major impact on efforts to eliminate the rubella virus (also known as German measles). The study “Relatives of rubella virus in diverse mammals,” was conducted in BDRD’s Genomics and Bioinformatics Department and the findings were published in Nature Oct. 7.

    The research team, comprised of Naval Medical Research Center, the University of Wisconsin, the Integrated Research Facility at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Institute of Diagnostic Virology, Institute of Novel and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Department of Experimental Animal Facilities and Biorisk Management, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (Germany), State Office for Agriculture, Food Safety and Fisheries (Germany), and the German Center for Infection Research, originally looked for certain viruses related to human pathogens when they came across ruhugu (found in bats in western Uganda), and rustrela (found in mice in northern Germany), both of which are related to the rubella virus.

    “Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) have the potential to cause enormous public health impacts as well as to negatively impact force health protection. Therefore, it’s important to perform surveillance in nature for viruses that may be EIDs, so that we can study them and characterize the potential risk prior to any spillover events. Many EIDs originate in animals, including bats. In this study we were looking to find RNA viruses related to human pathogens [and] we thought these bats were a good place to look,” said Dr. Kimberly A. Bishop-Lilly, head of BDRD’s Genomics and Bioinformatics Department and Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences (USU) graduate and adjunct faculty member. “We weren’t specifically looking for a relative of Rubella virus. That was a surprise!”

    Prior to this find, no relatives of the rubella virus were known to exist in nature making it a prime target for elimination, Bishop-Lilly explained. Now, with this new discovery, researchers may have unearthed additional areas to examine.

    “Our study demonstrates that not only are there at least two other rubella-like viruses in nature, found on two different continents (which suggests there may be others), there is a potential that antibodies raised against one of these viruses might cross-react against another of these viruses,” she said. “What we would like to do next is not only to characterize these viruses functionally in the laboratory but also screen other bats and rodents (including additional species) to characterize the prevalence and geographic range of these newly identified viruses.”

    According to the study’s authors, it is not clear whether these newly identified viruses can infect humans and there is no evidence that humans have been infected. And while rubella is not known to infect animals, one of its newly discovered cousins, rustrela, did cause the deaths of some animals at a zoo in Germany.

    “This makes sense because many human viruses originated in animals,” said one of the authors, Dr. Adrian Paskey. “We don’t know if rubella virus originally came from a bat, a mouse, or another mammal, or when it made the ‘jump’ into humans.”

    Bishop-Lilly advised Paskey on the research project. Paskey was an Emerging Infectious Diseases student at USU at the time of the study; she is currently a postdoctoral fellow with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    Bishop-Lilly’s lab was the only Navy lab used to conduct the study. Her department has three divisions (Phage, Sequencing and Bioinformatics) with a variety of state-of-the-art instrumentation including three Illumina MiSeq sequencers, an Illumina NextSeq500, a Life Technologies Ion S5, a PacBio Sequel, an Oxford Nanopore MinION, and a high-performance computing cluster. She attributed this work to the sophisticated tools and equipment, professional and dedicated staff, expertise of collaborators, and their combined experience in metagenomics, bat virology and field studies.

    About Naval Medical Research Center

    NMRC's eight laboratories are engaged in a broad spectrum of activity from basic science in the laboratory to field studies at sites in austere and remote areas of the world to operational environments. In support of the Navy, Marine Corps, and joint U.S. warfighters, researchers study infectious diseases, biological warfare detection and defense, combat casualty care, environmental health concerns, aerospace and undersea medicine, medical modeling, simulation and operational mission support, and epidemiology and behavioral sciences.



    Date Taken: 10.20.2020
    Date Posted: 10.20.2020 15:59
    Story ID: 381343
    Location: SILVER SPRING, MD, US 

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    Downloads: 1