Assembling the EEHV1A Genome to Save the Endangered Asian Elephant from Disease
Led By: Dr. George Church, Harvard Medical School
Status: Active (July 2019–June 2020)
Goal: Create a cell culture system for Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus 1A (EEHV1A) using a synthesized viral genome.
Why Now: Captive breeding efforts of the endangered Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) are currently hindered by the elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV), a widespread and highly fatal hemorrhagic disease that results in a 25% mortality rate for captive-born Asian elephant calves. Developing new strategies to fight this disease is essential for Asian elephant conservation. Unfortunately, all previous attempts to propagate the virus in cell culture models have failed. Without the ability to culture the virus in the laboratory, it is difficult to identify its’ mechanism of action, understand its host-virus interactions, develop vaccines, or screen new antiviral drugs.
Catalytic Science: The Church lab has proposed taking two parallel approaches to assembling the complete EEHV1A genome from synthetic DNA fragments and transfecting it into Asian elephant endothelial cells to create a cell culture platform. Once this has been achieved, they plan to use electron microscopy to test whether viral particles are being made. Learn more about work from the Church Lab.