Sally Rogers at immunogenetics research workshop

Research is an important part of being a University academic, informing teaching and advancing knowledge. Sally Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Bioscience, writes about a recent visit to The Pirbright Institute.

The Pirbright Institute in Surrey is a world leading centre for the research and surveillance of virus diseases of farm animals and viruses that spread from animals to humans. Ongoing projects there include further characterisation of a number of genomes, such as chicken and cattle in order to better understand host-pathogen interactions. So this was an excellent site for a workshop to discuss a particular group of chicken proteins called CHIRs. These proteins are cell surface receptors found on chicken immune cells, and there is evidence that they play a key role in viral infections such as influenza. The workshop consisted of six talks by researchers from a number of labs (including Birgit Viertlboeck from Munich, Mark Gibson from the Pirbright Institute and Jim Kaufman from Cambridge University followed by informal discussions on best approaches to collaborate and move the field forward.

I was fortunate to be invited to give a talk on my research here at the University of Gloucestershire, which lead to some really useful feedback and advice. Although I am not studying CHIR proteins, I am working on a closely related group of receptors called Natural Killer (NK) cell receptors. Like CHIR, these receptors likely play a role in resistance or susceptibility to infectious disease, and we are characterising the genes for these receptors in pied flycatchers. We chose flycatchers as our model species for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are a migratory species, overwintering in sub-Saharan Africa and returning to the UK each summer. As such, they have the potential to introduce zoonotic diseases such as West Nile Virus to the UK. So understanding their immune system better could help inform policy to control this human pathogen. Secondly, it appears that the NK receptor genes have moved to a different genomic location than where they are found in chickens. In fact, the genomic organisation resembles the situation in humans more than chickens. So understanding the location, structure and function of these genes may  shed light on the evolution of the immune system in general, including our own. Thirdly, there are genomic sequences available for the closely related collared flycatcher, which helps with experimental design. And finally we have some great collaborations in place with Mr. David Coker of the BTO and Dr. David Canal at the Donana Biological Station in Spain.

   

 

This project is already giving some really interesting results, including work by a number of students, including Tom Nicholson, Asif Laldin, Holly Tipper, Alex Faria, Peter Roberts and Alex Knight. More to follow on our results as we get finished up on our analysis! 
Matt Wood also joined the meeting the next day, in time for Sally’s talk and to pick the brains of the assembled audience about one of his research projects: puffinosis in Manx shearwaters. More of that in another post! 

 Many thanks to Mark Gibson for organising the workshop. Stay tuned for more Pirbright-related news… a blog post from Tom Nicholson about landing a PhD there. Well done Tom!

Dr Sally Rogers, Senior Lecturer in Biosciences

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