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Myxoviruses Monitoring in Seals Populations


Comparative Molecular Genetic Monitoring of Myxoviruses Circulating in Populations of Seals Phoca Caspia and Phoca Sibirica in Northern Caspian Region and Lake Baikal

Tech Area / Field

  • MED-DIS/Disease Surveillance/Medicine
  • BIO-DIV/Biodiversity/Biotechnology

3 Approved without Funding

Registration date

Leading Institute
State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology VECTOR, Russia, Novosibirsk reg., Koltsovo

Supporting institutes

  • Institute of Microbiology and Virology, Kazakstan, Almaty\nLimnological Institute, Russia, Irkutsk reg., Irkutsk\nCaspian Scientific and Research Institute of Fish Industry, Russia, Astrakhan


  • Purdue University / Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, USA, IN, West Lafayette\nFreshwater Institute, Canada, MB, Winnipeg

Project summary

Now the world is expecting a new flu pandemic, which is considered inevitable. That’s researchers of many countries seek to reveal facts indicative of emergence of a new pandemic strain and to identify its potential source.

Some scientists think that seals can play the role of a “mixing vessel” like pigs producing pandemic viruses through genomic reassortation of avian and human influenza viruses. Simultaneous circulation of mixoviruses (morbilliviruses and influenza viruses) in the seal population may considerably reduce the animal’s immune status and, as a result, cause the disease outbreaks and the animals’ death. Virological monitoring of wild sea mammals is obviously important both for understanding the ecology of influenza viruses and establishing control and prevention of influenza pandemic.

The end purpose of the given project is the evaluation of possible ways of emergence and spread of myxoviruses in the seal population for further development of appropriate safety measures and prevention of the penetration of phocine influenza virus into the human population.

Such question statement became possible due to the previously launched project on the study of avian influenza viruses - [(SRC VB Vector (Koltsovo), the Ivanovsky Institute of Virology (Moscow), Athens USDA (USA)] and international expeditions organized in 2000 to the Caspian Sea at the support of the US researchers – Professor Robert Webster and Michael Matrosovich from an ISTC grant.

The project participants have a many-year experience of work with influenza and canine distemper viruses including cloning of cDNA of influenza viruses, sequencing and computer analysis of primary sequences.

The questions of molecular evolution of viruses and emergence of new variants of viruses are urgent not only from the point of view of fundamental science but also in the practical aspect. Understanding of the processes of influenza viruses’ evolution during 5-10 years and phylogenetic relations between avian, mammalian and human viruses presents the necessary basis for prediction of the ways of development and mechanisms of emergence of new viral strains. As a result of these activities, we’ll be able to study the ways of virus transmission and the intensity of the population immunity, which will allow the development of epidemic processes to be predicted and methods for control of these infections to be developed.

The final goal of the Project proposed is to clarify the possible routes of emergence and spreading of influenza virus in seal population with the aim to develop the measures for prevention of seal influenza virus penetration into the human population. This statement of the problem became possible due to project commenced earlier—the project on studying avian influenza virus (SRC VB Vector, Koltsovo; Ivanovsky Institute of Virology, Moscow; and Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory, USDA, Athens, Ga.) and new project on studying swine influenza virus (SRC VB Vector, Koltsovo; Institute of Microbiology and Virology, Almaty, Kazakhstan; and Memphis, USA). Participants of the Project have a longterm experience in work with influenza and canine distemper viruses, including cDNA cloning, sequencing, and computer analysis of primary sequences.

Expedient sequencing of the complete genomes of canine distemper and influenza viruses isolated form seals will allow us not only to reconstruct a dynamic pattern of mutation accumulation in their genome, but also to monitor the distribution of seasonal changed variants of these viruses in seal population.

Problems of virus molecular evolution and emergence of new virus variants are topical not only from the basic science, but also from the applied standpoint. Understanding of the processes of influenza virus evolution during a 510 year period as well as phylogenetic relationships between avian, animal, and human influenza viruses form the necessary grounds for prediction of evolutionary pathways and mechanisms underlying the emergence of new viral strains.

Implementation of the Project will allow the mechanisms of infection transmission and the level of population immunity to be studied to predict the development of epidemic processes and design the methods for struggling with these infections.

The Project goals are:

· Isolation and identification of myxoviral pathogens circulating in the seal population
· Sequencing of the genomes of representative myxoviral strains. Creation of a collection of phocine myxoviruses and an information database on nucleotide sequences
· Comparative theoretical analysis of isolated and identified myxoviruses in the morbidity and mortality structure of Caspian and Baikal seals. Modeling of the ways of infections spread.

Expected Results:

1. Viral pathogens circulating in the populations of the Caspian and Baikal seals will be detected;
2. A collection of viral isolates obtained from diseased and dead seals will be created;
3. Data of analysis of the primary structures of the genomes of viral isolates obtained from diseased and dead seals will be obtained, which will allow revealing the mechanisms of inter-species transmission of myxoviruses and their epidemic potential for the seal population and, possibly, for the human population;
4. Structural and functional peculiarities of the organization of the genomes of myxoviruses isolated in Northern Caspian Sea and Lake Baikal will be determined and compared to the organization of known primary structures of the genomes of related strains of myxoviruses of sea birds and mammals including seals and humans, which is important for understanding the mechanisms of inter-species transmission of orthomyxovirus.
5. Structural and functional specificity of receptor zone in nucleotide and amino acid sequence of hemagglutinin gene and its product in influenza А virus isolated during the 2000 massive death of seals and influenza А virus isolated during the fulfillment of the given project will be determined, which is important for determining the viral epidemic potential.
6. Models of the infection transmission in the seal population will be developed, the development of epidemiological process will be predicted.


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