Monday, May 21, 2012

Why Snakes Go Crazy

On Thursday May 17, 2012, our lab went on a bit of a holiday to the historic UC Berkeley campus (known to the natives as THE University of California, as it was the first) to attend the 2nd Annual Bay Area Symposium on Viruses. While the symposium granted the podium to a number of excellent presenters, my favorite was Joe DiRisi of UC San Francisco, with his talk Tales from Veterinary Virology: Why Snakes Go Crazy. Now, you might say that my bias is due to the subject matter, and, in part, that's true. The talk was an excellently presented summary of the process of virus discovery, from disease to sequence, to proving Koch's postulates (which, in their case, is still in the works).

Berkeley- famous for the original UC and as the birthplace of my Dad. Oh, and Cheeseboard.
The disease under discussion was inclusion body disease of boa constrictors (IBD- and not to be confused with irritable bowel disease, which is another issue entirely). Now, this moniker may sound rudimentary, but inclusion bodies are all we pathologists really see in association with this disease, which causes debilitating, invariably fatal neurologic disease in boids.

Boa exhibiting neurologic signs associated with IBD (Laboklin Labs)

Until Thursday, I, like all other vets I know, did not have a clue what caused IBD (though some have implicated a retrovirus), other than knowing it was likely viral. So, imagine my surprise and delight to witness this presentation, which handed me the etiology, tied up in an elegant little bow: an arenavirus.

Large pink viral inclusions in a boid pacreas (Laboklin Labs)
Arenaviruses have previously been described in mice (and humans), and are associated with large intracellular inclusions, as seen in boid IBD. The group was able to do extensive deep sequencing through some interesting serendipitous opportunities, one of which involved getting a large corporation to foot the bill for sequencing the entire boid genome. Once the genome was sequenced, it became possible to screen sequences amplified from diseased animals for virus by first excluding the host DNA. This sounds simple, but was impossible without knowing the boid sequence, and previously, the closest relative to have published genome-wide sequencing was a distant lizard.

Aside from the obvious coolness factor of this study, I had a primary interest in the presentation; it outlines exactly what my lab is trying to do with a carnivore polyoma virus. Now just to get it to work...residency project, here I come!

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