Principal Investigator


Prof Trudi O'Neill
+27 51 401 2122



The research of the Molecular Virology Group focuses on rotavirus, a zoonotic viral infection that causes potentially fatal gastroenteritis in the young of various species, including humans and livestock. Specifically, children under the age of five and infants are at risk of severe dehydrating diarrhoea. The group follows a two-pronged research approach: understanding rotavirus biology and applied research involving next generation vaccine development. The group collaborates with scientists at various South African institutions, Mozambique, Argentina and Germany.


Subunit vaccine development through the production of rotavirus-like particles and viral proteins in yeast is explored as an alternative low-cost rotavirus vaccine for use in Africa in collaboration with Prof Koos Albertyn (UFS) and Dr Martin Blasco (National Institute for Industrial Technology, Argentina). Double-layered particles (DLP) consisting of the VP2 and VP6 capsid proteins are vaccine development targets in addition to recombinantly produced proteins including VP6, the outer-capsid spike protein, VP4 and NSP4, a non-structural protein.

Yeast produced VP6 tubule
Yeast produced VP6 tubule

Fused mammalian cells
Fused mammalian cells following transfection to rescue recombinant rotaviruses

Making use of a complete plasmid-based reverse genetics system, recombinant rotaviruses are rescued for rational design of next generation rotavirus vaccines. This work is performed collaboration with Prof Albie van Dijk (North-West University) and Prof Reimar Johne (Federal Institute of Risk Assessment, Germany). The reverse genetics system is also used to improve our understanding of evolutionary processes such as reassortment and rotavirus-host interactions, specifically, the role of lipids during rotavirus infection in collaboration with Prof Carlien Pohl (UFS).

Collection of faecal samples
Collection of faecal samples at a pig farm

Understanding rotavirus strain diversity and the processes driving diversity is important in vaccine development. Therefore, rotavirus diversity studies have been carried out in collaboration with Dr Nilsa de Deus at the National Institute of Health in Mozambique. This work involves whole genome rotavirus characterization using next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies in conjunction with Dr Martin Nyaga, UFS NGS Unit. Diversity studies have recently been expanded to investigate the prevalence of rotavirus in domesticated animals.

Falkenhagen A, Patzina-Mehling C, Gadicherla AK, Strydom A, O'Neill HG and Johne R (2020) Generation of simian Rotavirus reassortants with VP4- and VP7-encoding genome segments from human strains circulating in Africa using reverse genetics. Viruses, 12, 201. doi:10.3390/v12020201. PDF

Strydom A, Motanyane L, Nyaga MM, João ED, Cuamba A, Mandomando I, Cassocera M, de Deus N and O'Neill H (2019) Whole-genome characterization of G12 rotavirus strains detected in Mozambique reveals a co-infection with a GXP[14] strain of possible animal origin. Journal of General Virology, 100, 932-937. doi: 10.1099/jgv.0.001270. Abstract

Strydom A, João ED, Motanyane L, Nyaga MM, Potgieter AC, Cuamba A, Mandomando I, Cassocera M, de Deus N and O'Neill HG (2019) Whole genome analyses of DS-1-like Rotavirus A strains detected in children with acute diarrhoea in southern Mozambique suggest several reassortment events. Infection Genetics and Evolution, 69, 68-75. doi: 10.1016/j.meegid.2019.01.011. Abstract

João ED, Strydom A, O’Neill HG, Cuamba A, Cassocera M, Acácio S, Mandomando I, Motanyane L, Page N and De Deus N (2018) Rotavirus A strains obtained from children with acute gastroenteritis in Mozambique, 2012-2013: G and P genotypes and phylogenetic analysis of VP7 and partial VP4 genes. Archives of Virology, 163, 153-165. doi: 10.1007/s00705-017-3575-y. PDF

Sander WJ, O’Neill HG and Pohl CH (2017) Prostaglandin E2 as a modulator of viral infections. Frontiers in Physiology, 8:89. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00089 PDF

Recent News and Highlights

AfRota meeting Sept

The Molecular Virology hosted the second annual partners meeting for the DFG-funded project “Antigens and Reassortant Strains for rotaviruses circulating in Africa (AfRota)” from 9-11 September at UFS. Attending partners included Prof Reimar Johne (Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Germany), Prof Albie van Dijk (North-West University) and Dr Nilsa de Deus (National Institute of Health, Mozambique) and their teams. Project associates, Dr Martin Nyaga (NGS Unit, UFS) and Prof Christiaan Potgieter (Deltamune, Pretoria), were also in attendance.

Soveij van der Schyff FameLab

Soveij van der Schyff was first runner-up during the recent regional Free State FameLab heat, held at UFS. FameLab is a science communication competition, with more than 30 participating countries globally.

Mercy INTI 2

Mercy Ogunyinka visited the Research and Development Centre of Industrial Biotechnology at the Argentinean National Institute of Industrial Technology (INTI) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for four weeks in August at INTI to perform deep-well plate screens.

Virology Africa

Members of the Molecular Virology group attended the recent Virology Africa 2020 conference that was held at the Radisson Blu Hotel at the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town from 10-14 February. From left is Dr Amy Strydom, post-doctoral fellow, Sergio Mendes dos Ramos, MSc student, Wico Sander, PhD student and Neo Segone, MSc student. Dr Strydom and Wico Sander gave oral presentations at the conference.

Best poster

A poster by Miss. Neo Segone won the best poster prize at the 1st International Conference of Neglected Tropical Diseases in Africa or IncoNTD from 4-6 December 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya. The meeting was held in conjunction with the 13th Kenya Ministry of Health and KEMRI Annual NTD conference and was co-hosted by KEMRI, the Kenya Ministry of Health and the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD). Dr. Strydom, a co-author, presented preliminary data on the surveillance of porcine rotavirus in a small pilot study carried out in South Africa.


Elfrieda van den Berg (Marketing Manager)
T: +27 51 401 2531


Dilahlwane Mohono (Faculty Officer)
T: +27 58 718 5284

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