Virology is a young science. Viruses were only discovered and recognized just over hundred years ago. Yet, the - sometimes catastrophic - consequences of viral infections in humans, life stock and crops have already been documented in sources dating several thousands of years back. In all probability, viruses are as ols as life itself and we may safely assume that the first organisms to appear were already plaged by viral infections. Viruses have had a major impact on the evolution of life on earth as well as on human history. For example, the European conquest of the Americas might not have succeeded without the decisive aid of pathogens unwittingly introduced by the conquistadores. The immunologically-naïve native-American populations were decimated by measles and small pox, sending ancient well-organized civilizations into disarray and decline.
Viruses remain a constant menace. In 1918, immediately after the Great War, an influenza virus pandemic caused havoc, killing an estimated 40 million people. Presently, more than 40 million people are infected by human immunodeficiency virus, a disastrous situation mainly affecting the developing countries. In our part of the world, recent outbreaks of hog cholera, food-and-mouth disease and avian flu causes several billion euros in economic damage. In 2003, a hitherto unknown coronavirus causing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), emerged out-of-the-blue, rapidly infecting 8,098 people on four continents and killing 774 of them. While the SARS outbreak was contained, there is the continuing threat of a new influenza virus pandemic that may of may nog arise from the current H5N1 strain of avian flu. In the meanwhile, global warming is changing the ecology of arthropod vectors, increasing their reproduction rates and altering their geographic spread with exotic viruses following their wake. In august 2006, blue tongue virus, a pathogen of life stock transmitted by midges, mad its first appearance in the Netherlands and now seems here to stay. Not long ago (September 2007), blue tongue was also discovered in Britain. In 2005 - 2006, Chikungunya virus caused a massive outbreak on the island Reunion in the Indian ocean involving one-third of the human population. Until recently, the virus only occurred in the tropics. Now it has popped-up in Italy, where it is being transmitted by the asian tiger mosquito.
Finally, as we speak, England is in the midst of yet another outbreak of food-and-mouth disease, this time caused by a virus that escaped from a research facility...
Still, viral disease is only one side of the coin. In fact, the field of virology has been a main driving force in the biotechological revolution with many of the scientific breakthroughs in molecular biology, cell biology and immunology resulting directly from studies that used viruses as model system. In various laboratories all over the world attempts are made to convert viruses into allies in our combat against infectious and genetic diseases.
There is no doubt about it: viruses are HOT!
Course aims and content
Aim of this course is to provide an overview of the field of virology.
After a general introduction on structure, replication cycle and virus taxonomy, the entry, replication and assembly of specific examples of DNA, RNA and retrovirusses are studied in greater detail. Furthermore pathogenesis and epidemiology will be part of the course and virus-host interactions are studied on the level of cells, individual hosts and host populations. This will lead to the topics of prophylaxis and
therapy of viral diseases (vaccination, antiviral therapeutics). Finally, the use of viruses in molecular biology, vaccine development and gene therapy is discussed.
Literature / study material used
Principles of Virology, Molecular biology, Pathogeneis, and Control of Animal Viruses, S.J. Flint et al, 4th edition 2015
Additional reference books:
Microbiology - Prescott et al., 6th edition 2004
Viruses and Human Disease - Strauss and Strauss, 2002
Fields, Virology - Knipe, Howley, Driffin et al., 4th edition 2001