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Leveraging synthetic biology to develop a vaccine for African swine fever


The challenge

African swine fever is a highly infectious hemorrhagic viral disease. Although harmless to humans, it is highly contagious and deadly for pigs. The virus can wipe out entire herds, thereby threatening food security and causing devastating economic losses.

African swine fever has long been endemic in sub-Saharan Africa, but it has now spread to Asia and Europe, where animal health agencies are struggling to contain what has become the largest-ever animal disease outbreak in the world.

Developing an African swine fever vaccine

There is currently no treatment or vaccine to protect against African swine fever. The disease induces complex immune responses that require intricate virus manipulation prior to designing and developing a vaccine. Until now, the lack of convenient genetic tools to study this pathogen has been a major roadblock to vaccine development.

In the first phase of the project, researchers successfully used synthetic biology tools to modify and assemble a synthetic African swine fever virus genome. This step simplifies the manipulation of the virus and the subsequent generation of different virus forms that can be tested as potential vaccines. The second phase of the project aims to identify and advance the development of at least one form of a synthetic virus as a vaccine against African swine fever.

Expected results

This project will generate a set of synthetic vaccine candidates and test their safety and efficacy in swine, which is expected to significantly advance the development of an urgently needed African swine fever vaccine.

Lead institutions

This project is a collaboration between the J. Craig Venter Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute.

  • Duration: 28 months

  • Budget: CA$2.4 million