Contact: Dr. Lia Rotherham  or Dr. Antoinette van Schalkwyk 

The development of novel molecular diagnostic tests and reagents for viral diseases. This group also focuses on the improvement of current diagnostic tests for diseases within the South African environment.


African horse sickness

African horse sickness is a non-contagious infection of equids caused by an orbivirus of the same name. It is endemic to southern Africa where all nine of virus serotypes have been described. The outer capsid protein VP2, encoded by the most variable genome segment 2 (Seg-2), is the primary target for AHSV specific neutralising antibodies and subsequently determines the virus serotype. Full length segment-2 sequences from more than 100 AHSV isolated over the last 80 years were compared and Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) identified between the reference and recent field viruses (see full genome sequencing). Unique regions to each individual serotype were identified and primers were designed to differentially amplify each of the nine serotypes. The resulting amplicon contained a significant amount of SNPs to discriminate between field and reference viruses. The PCR assay was subsequently evaluated and is implemented to determine the prevalence of different AHSV serotypes associated with outbreaks of the disease during each season (see epidemiology). [Contact: Dr. van Schalkwyk].


Transboundary Animal diseases

Transboundary animal diseases (TADs) are defined by the FAO as those diseases that are of economic, trade and/or food security importance for a substantial number of countries. These diseases can easily spread to other countries and reach epidemic proportions; and their control requires cooperation between several countries. Research include novel diagnostic strategies for Classical swine fever (CSF), Aujeszky's disease (AD), Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome (PRRS) as well as Peste des petits ruminants (PPR). [Contact: Dr. van Heerden].

Infectious bronchitis disease

The development of a one-step RT-PCR for the differentiation of field viruses and vaccines. [Contact: Dr. Lia Rotherham]

Foot and Mouth Disease

The development of novel diagnostic reagents for the testing of Foot and Mouth Disease as well as the validation of current diagnostic methods in the South African setting. [Contact: Dr. Opperman]

African swine fever

AfricanSwine.pngAfrican swine fever (ASF) is the most important disease affecting domestic pigs listed by the World Animal Health organization (OIE) caused by ASF virus. A virus originally confined within the sylvatic cycle of its natural hosts (Ornithodoros soft tick and wild suids). There is no treatment or vaccine. Its control is based on rapid diagnosis and implementation of strict sanitary measures.  Its genome size ranges from 170 to 193 kilobase pairs depending on the virus strain. The virus presents high genetic and antigenic variability, with 23 genotypes identified based on P72 gene sequences (see epidemiology). We are sequencing full genomes (see full genome sequencing) on available ASFV isolates from outbreaks occurring in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Soft ticks of the Ornithodoros moubata species complex are haematophagous ectoparasites of terrestrial vertebrates that are of veterinary and medical importance. Ornithodoros porcinus, one of four species within the O. moubata species complex, is the vector for African swine fever (ASF) virus. These vectors occur throughout southern, eastern and central Africa, and on the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar. Mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene characterisation has previously identified the presence of three regionally distinct lineages in sub-Saharan Africa. In this study, we expand both the sampling and genetic characterisation of ticks from the southern African region to include tick salivary protein genes and mitochondrial gene targets. [Contact: Dr. van Heerden].

Avian influenza 

The improvement of pathotyping H5 and H7 viruses via real-time PCR in the South African setting. [Contact: Dr. Lia Rotherham]

Newcastle disease

The development of a one-step qRT-PCR for the pathotyping and characterisation of field isolates of Newcastle disease virus. [Contact: Dr. Lia Rotherham]
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