African swine fever (ASF) is a highly contagious haemorrhagic disease of domestic pigs, European wild boar and American wild pigs. Signs and symptoms of the disease include; high fever, vomiting, loss of appetite, haemorrhages in the skin and internal organs, and death in 2-10 days with a mortality rates as high as 100%.The disease has no cure nor vaccine. The diseasewas first detected in Kenya in the early 1920s. It is caused by the African swine fever virus (ASFV), the only member of the Asfarviridae family, genus Asfivirus and the only DNA arbovirus (genome size 170-190 kbp). 22 genotypes of ASFV are known to date and all these 22 genotypes are present in Africa, with genotype IX predominating in Uganda.
About the project
The project aims to determine the transmission dynamics of African swine fever (ASF) at the livestock-wildlife interface in an endemic setting. To achieve this aim, the project will undertake a comprehensive molecular epidemiological analysis to investigate the distribution, pattern of spread, and full genome characteristics of ASF virus (ASFV) in Uganda.
The Molecular Biology Laboratory in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is a well-established facility with a team of research scientists from diverse but closely related disciplines such as evolutionary Biology, Virology, Epidemiology and population genetics. Our main research is focused on seeking to understand and explain processes that drive diversification in a wide range of taxa including large mammals of Africa and their diseases. The underlying hypothesis is that, it is through understanding these processes that we are able to design appropriate conservation and disease control strategies. In recent years, our research scope has expanded and we are now trying to understand why some selected viral diseases persist despite the several control measures (e.g. Foot-and-mouth disease, and African swine fever in East Africa). The hypothesis is that rapid change in the genomes of these viruses could underlie this phenomenon. Our current team includes 6 PhD and 10 master students doing research on different aspects of molecular evolution, sustainable utilisation and conservation of biological resources. Facilities for these studies are available at our laboratory, which although small, is relatively well equipped for a developing country.
This Wellcome Trust funded intermediate fellowship on African swine fever by Associate Professor Charles Masembe falls within and benefits from our larger scope of studies trying to understand why some selected viral diseases persist despite the several disease control measures. Preliminary studies on ASF have been carried out at our laboratory and research gaps have been identified that require comprehensive investigations. This ASF study therefore not only builds on previous experience but also gives Charles a chance to undertake comprehensive studies on a disease of very high economic importance for Uganda where the pig sector is quickly growing.
To increase our understanding of the genome characteristics and transmission dynamics of ASFV at the livestock-wildlife interface in Uganda
To contribute to effective control strategies for ASF
Charles has had a very productive start to his research career and has greatly benefited from the extensive training and mentorship received at Makerere University and through collaborative visits to research institutions in other parts of the world.
He now has taken the next step in his professional development by developing an independent research programme that reflects his research interests, develops and strengthens his research expertise and has the potential to contribute to improvements in the control of the devastating losses wreaked by African swine fever in his home country of Uganda, and possibly beyond.
This Wellcome Trust Intermediate fellowship gives him the unique opportunity to learn new technologies, without getting disconnected from the realities on the ground. Indeed he will undertake training at the MRC - University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research in deep sequencing techniques and de novo genome assembly, in addition to methods to analyse virus transmission dynamics.
Charles therefore now serves as a valuable role model for the younger scientists in his group and more widely across Makerere University and in the East African region. We are hopeful that he can use the success of this fellowship as a platform from which to secure additional grant support to advance the strengthening of animal disease molecular epidemiologists in the region.
Charles is fully committed to pursuing a research career in his home country and therefore the Public Health and Tropical Medicine fellowship scheme is an invaluable opportunity to help him achieve this aspiration.
a) To assess the spatial distribution of ASFV in domestic and wild pigs two ecologically contrasting regions (Greater Masaka and Greater North Uganda) endemic for ASF.
b) To investigate the role of soft ticks in the spread and maintenance of African swine fever in the domestic and sylvatic cycles.
c) To determine the molecular genetics and evolutionary characteristics of ASF virus in pigs and ticks at the livestock-wildlife interface to reveal transmission networks.
Charles Masembe (BVM, MSc., PhD),
Associate Professor (Molecular Genetics & Evolution),
Wellcome Trust Fellow,