09/12/2021

Viral Genetics and Biosafety Unit (GVB) of the Ploufragan-Plouzané-Niort Laboratory

Head of Unit: Yannick Blanchard

Since its creation, the Viral Genetics and Biosafety Unit has been positioned at the crossroads of two main topics: viral emergence and the contribution of technological developments, in relation to ANSES's missions concerning animal health and food safety.

The GVB Unit has structured its work around these two approaches over the last 20 years, initially with a viral emergence team in the swine sector, which worked extensively on porcine circoviruses and piglet wasting disease in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then on porcine coronaviruses within the context of the re-emergence of porcine epidemic diarrhoea from 2013. This most recent work now enables animal coronaviruses to be used as viral models to better understand the evolution or environmental persistence of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

All this work has made extensive use of molecular biology techniques, such as reverse genetics, to finely dissect host-pathogen interactions and their links to virulence. With regard to technological developments and their application to the models studied at ANSES, extensive work has been carried out on the use of plasmid DNA as a subunit vaccination agent and on the biosecurity issues inherent in these techniques, such as the study of the spread and fate of DNA molecules in the body.

A shared high-throughput sequencing platform 

A second technological development in biology has been high-throughput, new-generation sequencing (NGS), which has profoundly transformed the unit's research approaches, especially with regard to emergence phenomena and the characterisation of complex microbial populations.  This major development over the last decade has led the unit to propose the creation of a high-throughput sequencing platform, which is now shared by all the ANSES laboratories, and to develop NGS data-processing skills within the laboratory by training a team of bioinformaticians.

These new skills are leading the unit to develop new approaches combining vaccinology and bioinformatics to identify new antigens (reverse vaccinology) or to characterise the immune response in greater detail by analysing the antibody repertoires generated during infection or vaccination. Similarly, bioinformatics modelling of the structure of viral RNAs is being studied in an attempt to link the predicted structures to the characteristics of the different viral strains (pathogenicity, evolutionary ability).

The GVB Unit acts as a "reference laboratory without mandate" for the viruses responsible for piglet wasting disease (porcine circovirus) and porcine epidemic diarrhoea (coronavirus).

Main recent projects

COMPARE (2015-2020)

Collaborative Management Platform for detection and Analyses of (Re-)emerging and foodborne outbreaks in Europe

Funding: European H2020 programme

The aim of the COMPARE project is to enable the rapid identification, containment and mitigation of emerging infectious diseases and foodborne outbreaks. It is a multidisciplinary research network, which aims to define an analytical framework and become a platform for sharing data and information on a global level. It aims to integrate state-of-the-art strategies, technologies and methods for the collection, processing and analysis of pathogen data, in combination with associated data (clinical, epidemiological etc.), in order to generate information that can be used by competent authorities and other users in the fields of human health, animal health and food safety.

Find out more about the project 

PREPMEDVET (2021-2023)

Emergency preparedness and response to emerging pathogens of medical and/or veterinary interest

Funding: for France, ANR (French Research Agency), for Germany, BMBF (Federal Ministry of Education and Research)

The project's overall objective is to set up a portable sequencing diagnostic platform capable of delivering critical information in an epidemic context within a clinically relevant time frame.