Respiratory and enteric diseases continue to be a major concern to animal producers and protection of animals by effective prevention and control of diseases is critical to maintain wholesome animal products. Such efforts make a significant contribution towards national food security. In addition, considering the zoonotic potential of many animal pathogens, control measures are critical to reduce the environmental contamination with pathogens to prevent possible transmission to humans.
Although we have considerable experience of different respiratory and enteric viral diseases, our recent research focus has been on influenza virus, including both basic and applied research. Influenza virus continues to evolve due to its genetic nature and the emergence of novel strains is inevitable. The 2009 H1N1 pandemic is a good example demonstrating that predicting when and where the next pandemic strain will arise is almost impossible even in 21st century. This poses a number of problems in designing timely preventive measures. The recent outbreaks of highly pathogenic H5N1 and low pathogenic H7N9, traced initially to avian species, and the 2009 pandemic of H1N1 in humans, most closely related to triple reassortant swine influenza viruses, speak to the necessity of developing vaccines with greater efficacy and protection against a broader range of antigenic variants and subtypes.
Vaccination is recognized as one of the most effective tools for mitigating the impact of influenza epidemics and pandemics. However, commercially available vaccines are in general directed specifically towards the strain contained in the vaccine and careful selection of vaccine strain should be made so that they match with the circulating strain. Thus, it is of high veterinary and public health importance to explore novel ways to develop more broadly reactive vaccines without compromising their safety.
The recent understanding of influenza viruses is significantly facilitated by the development of reverse genetics, which can generate infectious virus from cloned cDNA. Using this technique, we can study the function of the individual gene as well as identify the gene or specific amino acid that is related to pathogenicity or attenuation, host specificity, etc. which may be useful in understanding the virus and developing advanced vaccines. We have been applying this technique in combination with site-directed mutagenesis and in vivo experimental infection studies to assess the pathogenic potential of avian influenza virus, interspecies transmission of swine influenza virus and to develop broadly reactive influenza vaccines.
We believe that all of our research tool can be used to address public health concerns as well as poultry and swine disease issues. Our ongoing research will enhance the understanding of the genetic factors that determine interspecies transmission of influenza viruses to humans and potential pathogenicity in humans, and will more generally expand our overall understanding of influenza.