Bac to our Roots!

Ever wondered where the baculovirus insect cell expression system came from? The clue is in the name – of course it came from viruses that naturally infect insect caterpillars or larvae and can cause a nasty lytic disease.  The symptoms are quite dramatic!

You may not realise it, but insects are prone to all manner of diseases caused by a variety of pathogens including: viruses, bacteria, fungi, microsporidia, nematodes and other parasites.  But who works on these systems?  They don’t often attract much attention by comparison with the glamour attached to research on human and other animal diseases.  Nonetheless, there are small communities of dedicated researchers around the world who beaver away to unlock the secrets of these host-pathogen systems.

One of the foremost gatherings of researchers interested in invertebrate diseases is the annual meeting of the Society for Invertebrate Pathology, which this year met in Tours, France between 24-28th July.  Although OET makes its living from using insect virus-based protein expression systems, most of us have our roots in studies on baculovirus-insect interactions either through post graduate degrees or post doctoral work.  Therefore, every year at least some of us try to get to the SIP meeting to catch up on the latest results.

We enjoyed a very good scientific program including plenary sessions, workshops and poster presentations.  Two highlights for the OETeam included a second prize for our sponsored Oxford Brookes University student, Mine Askular for her poster, “Improving baculovirus surface display system” and an “honourable mention” for Leo Graves for his workshop talk on “3-Dimensional ultrastructural modelling of Autographa californica multicapsid nucleopolyhedrovirus infection in insect cells to determine the role of P10 during baculovirus infection”.  We can’t publish their abstracts here, but you can still access them in the SIP 2016 abstract book.

Other talks highlighted how much high throughput genome sequencing is contributing to virus research.  Our CEO lamented that the first baculovirus genome his group sequenced back in the 1980/90’s took nearly 8 years from start to publication.  Now people seem to sequence multiple genomes overnight, almost for fun!  One-metre-long glass plate sequencing gels are consigned to history.

It wasn’t all work at the meeting though!  The SIP is noted for its fine program of social activities, including excursions, BBQ and conference dinner, which ends the conference on the last day, so no groggy sessions to attend the next day!  There was also a fun 5K run/walk to test the fitness of participants.

We thought it worth highlighting how very applied work such as the baculovirus insect expression system is underpinned by a lot of basic science, which will probably contribute to future advances in the area.  The 2017 SIP meeting is in San Diego, USA with the 2018 meeting also scheduled for the Gold Coast, Australia.  If you are near either of those locations at the right time consider dropping in to hear about some excellent fundamental research.