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 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 institutions in South Africa, Mozambique, Argentina, Australia, and Germany.

Subunit vaccine development through the microbial production of rotavirus-like particles and viral proteins in yeast and bacteria is being 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 of 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.

Recombinant rotaviruses are rescued for the rational design of next-generation rotavirus vaccines using a complete plasmid-based reverse genetics system. This work is performed in collaboration with Prof Albie van Dijk (North-West University) and Prof Reimar Johne (Federal Institute for 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). This collaboration has recently been expanded to investigate possible interkingdom interactions between the gut colonising yeast, Candida albicans, and rotavirus.

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

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

Yeast produced VP6 tubule
Yeast produced VP6 tubule

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 Prof Martin Nyaga, UFS NGS Unit. Diversity studies have recently been expanded to investigate the prevalence of rotavirus in domesticated animals, such as bovine and porcine.

Principal Investigator

Trudi O'Neill

Prof Trudi O'Neill
+27 51 401 2122


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

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

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