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Briefing on African Swine Fever

Roslin scientists provide information on this contagious and untreatable virus that is affecting pig populations globally.

A photograph of a pig facing the camera.

Following recent cases of pigs affected by African Swine Fever Virus in Belgium, Caucasus and China, Roslin scientists and Deputy Directors Professor Bruce Whitelaw and Professor Mark Stevens provide information on this contagious and untreatable virus.

African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious disease of domestic and feral pigs caused by African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV). Infection with ASFV causes haemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate and is transmitted by biting ticks. The virus can persistently infect wild bushpigs and warthogs without causing disease. People cannot catch this disease.

There are no effective vaccines or treatments available for ASF and control of the disease relies on strict biosecurity, rapid diagnosis and the mass slaughter and appropriate disposal of all animals on affected premises. Consequently, wherever it appears, ASF has a huge impact on animal welfare, farmer livelihoods and the wider economy.

Even though the disease is endemic to countries of sub-Saharan Africa, in 2007 ASF was introduced into the Caucasus from which it has spread both Eastwards and Westwards, recently reaching Belgium. With the increasing global movement of goods and people, there is the real threat that ASF will continue to spread across Europe and reach the UK.

Research at The Roslin Institute

At The Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, we are pursuing three approaches to understand ASF to design and test of control strategies:

Epidemiology

As part of EPIC (Epidemiology, Population and Infectious disease Control), the Scottish Government’s Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks, we characterise the movement of animals enabling us to model the spread of ASF and plan appropriate surveillance, traceability and if appropriate cull strategies.

Genetics

By studying the response of populations of pigs, or cells derived from them, to ASF infection, we aim to identify those that are resistant to infection or resilient to disease. By studying the genetic make-up of these individuals, we can identify regions of the genome associated with resistance or resilience that can be selected in breeding schemes.

Genome editing

Different species of pig respond differently to ASF. We have identified genetic variation that exists between species and we are now evaluating whether genome editing strategies could be used to introduce genetic variation into domestic pigs that will confer resistance to infection.

Relevant links

Animal Genetic Engineering to fight infectious diseases - Roslin group

Cases of ASF globally by The Guardian

Gene-edited pigs are resistant to billion dollar virus, study finds