14/10/2020 0 min

ANSES portrait - "Being prepared for the emergence of diseases"- Béatrice Grasland

Béatrice Grasland has a PhD in microbiology. She first worked in the field of swine virology, then in avian virology, with notable experience in animal coronaviruses.

"Construction of infectious clones to obtain viral models and study their virulence"

beatrice grasland

Becoming a researcher was a revelation for me. In research, you never get bored, you never stop learning. You can always go further to find out more and investigate more. My work at ANSES involves studying viruses in animals. I first worked on viruses that affect the pig sector, such as type 2 porcine circovirus, which causes wasting in piglets; and currently I work on viruses in the avian sector, including avian influenza. More precisely, my unit works on viral genetics: we study the DNA and RNA of viruses. These are the molecules that carry the different genes of a virus and enable it to multiply. In fact, viruses replicate rapidly by implanting themselves in a living cell, whether a plant, animal or human cell.  To better understand how these genes function, we use what is known as "reverse" genetics. This consists of constructing infectious clones, i.e. viruses whose DNA or RNA has been modified. Thanks to these cloned viruses we are able to understand how they develop and then to create vaccines to control them. We have multiple models of viruses that are used to identify the emergence of a new pathogen. For example, we have been studying animal coronaviruses for years. As part of the COVID-19 crisis, we were asked to provide coronavirus models in order to test the effectiveness of masks under different conditions.

"Being prepared for the emergence of diseases"

What I also like about my job is that we don't limit ourselves to working in laboratories, we really help in the actual fight against health threats. One of my objectives is to be ready in case of an alert. You have to be aware that new diseases emerge regularly, for example every eight years for coronaviruses in humans. In order to prepare for these new emergent events, my unit and I do a lot of monitoring of the literature as well as through alert networks. We are constantly on the alert to monitor diseases circulating outside of France. For example, during the porcine epidemic diarrhoea outbreak caused by a coronavirus that killed more than 8 million pigs in the United States in 2013, we prepared for a year, we put diagnostic tools in place and when the virus arrived in Europe in 2014, we were ready to detect it immediately on the farms. We also closely monitor the viruses circulating in France. We sometimes have to intervene to identify a disease in imported animals at airports. We also collaborate a lot with professionals in the industry in order to obtain information on animal health problems on farms in order to prevent the spread of diseases.

"Studying animals in their environment"

The spread of viruses could also have serious economic consequences for farms. We advise health authorities and veterinarians on the implementation of control measures to slow the spread of viruses. For this, we need to understand how livestock farming is organised so we can provide practical solutions. Along with epidemiologists, are in close contact with veterinarians and farmers so we can better understand the animals in their environment. This way, we have all the “on the ground” information we need to then propose measures suited to each specific situation. It is thanks to the reactivity of everyone involved that we can be truly effective, and for this a relationship of trust is essential.