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A large 3D model of the Blue Tongue virus has been created by WMG
engineering researchers at the University of Warwick that will help
biologists devise new ways to combat the virus and protect millions of
livestock from infection.
The WMG University of Warwick researchers based their model on data
provided by the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, and from
Oxford University. The Warwick team used rapid prototyping technology,
normally used to create highly accurate 3D copies of components for a
range of manufacturing processes, to create an accurate 3D model virus
that is 5,200,000 times the size of the real thing.
Dr Greg Gibbons, who leads the University of Warwick's WMG's rapid
prototyping team, is working with Professor Peter Mertens, head of the
Arbovirus Research Group at the Institute of Animal Health at
Pirbright, and Robert Esnouf of Oxford.
Dr Gibbons said: "Research collaboration between engineers and
biologists is rare although we have worked with Oxford and the IAH
before. The physical model we've created is based on the same
technology we use to quickly and cheaply create models of, for example,
car parts; used by manufacturers to develop designs and test products
before going into full-scale production."
The insect-borne virus is most commonly seen in the late summer and autumn and can devastate herds of sheep and cattle.
Professor Mertens said: "Blue Tongue represents the worst threat to
agriculture this country has seen for 20 years. In its first year in
Belgium it wiped out 100 sheep, but in its second year it wiped out
30,000. In Britain we have 34 million sheep -- we could be looking at
losing up to 20 per cent of that population."
"I don't know of any other way to create a scientifically accurate
model of a virus. By using the computer models we've generated we can
feed that information into the machines at WMG and create an absolutely
perfect model of the real virus."
"The model will help us to understand how the molecules and proteins
interact with one another and this could help us to develop new
anti-viral drugs. Having a physical model that you can pick up and peer
at will make a huge difference."
The Blue Tongue model will be on show at the Royal Society's Summer
Science Exhibition in London from 30 June to 3 July. The research was
funded by BBSRC.
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