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K-State brings next-generation approach to livestock disease research

Goal is to identify genes from an animal or through mosquito vectors carrying viruses, to learn how virus infects, replicates.

January 25, 2024

2 Min Read
Mosquito larvae and pupae collected from the field support collaborative research on transboundary livestock animal diseases between Jayme Souza-Neto at K-State and William Wilson and Dana Mitzel at the USDA Agricultural Research Service.K-State

It's all in the genes for Jayme Souza-Neto, assistant professor in Kansas State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. His expertise in next-generation sequencing and functional genomics is part of a collaborative research project with researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Souza-Neto is working with William Wilson, Dana Mitzel and other USDA researchers through a non-assistance co-operative agreement to look at the transmission of arboviruses that cause diseases in livestock.

"Dr. Wilson and ARS colleagues are interested in studying transboundary animal diseases like Rift Valley fever and Japanese encephalitis — very relevant diseases with significant economic impact that can affect spread through multiple countries through vectors such as mosquitoes," Souza-Neto said. "Those viruses typically trigger the host immune responses, which may involve multiples genes that start or stop certain defense functions in response to an infection."

Souza-Neto uses next-generation sequencing coupled with modern gene silencing/knockout technologies to learn more about the genes found to be responsive to these types of viruses and how each one functions. With more knowledge, researchers can then find ways to mitigate the spread of these diseases.

"Scientists understand only a small fraction of how arboviruses emerge, are maintained, replicate inside a host, transmit between vectors and hosts, and spread across a population," Wilson said. He is the principal investigator for the project "Host and Vector Transcriptional Responses for Transboundary Arboviral Disease of Livestock."

"Our goal is to develop analysis tools that can be used to characterize and compare viruses' genetic material and determine the factors and paths that these viruses use to infect a host," Wilson said.

Souza-Neto is the head of the next-generation sequencing section of the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and assistant director of the Molecular and Cell Biology Core in the College of Veterinary Medicine's Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.

Souza-Neto came to K-State from Brazil, where he was an assistant professor at Sao Paulo State University and coordinated a research program on vector-borne diseases. He also held leadership roles on diverse national and international initiatives focused on preparedness and response to infectious disease outbreaks.

"This is my first time working in a veterinary college," Souza-Neto said. "However, I started collaborating with the USDA and CEZID researchers when I was in Brazil, before coming to K-State. We started cooperating on emerging arboviruses and looking for these viruses in the field by collecting mosquitoes and investigating their virome."

Once samples are collected, the researchers can use next-generation sequencing and bioinformatics tools to look at the virus species in the samples.

"I'm bringing my vector/host-pathogen interaction and functional genomics background into the research so we can work on identifying genes from an animal — the host, such as cattle — or through the mosquito vectors carrying the viruses, to learn how virus infects and replicates within those models," Souza-Neto said.

"Those are important targets if you want to develop new mosquito/transmission control tools, therapies or vaccines."

The current research project is funded through August 2025.

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