Cowpox's genetic code could lead to bioweapon vaccines

Research into deciphering the cowpox virus' genetic coding has revealed the potential to treat other diseases, including those that pose a biothreat such as ebola.

ASU's Biodesign Institute's researchers have learned that the cowpox virus serves as a framework for smallpox and other pox viruses and shares many of the same genes as those viruses.

Cowpox, which is a skin disease transmitted to humans by animals, was discovered to be the progenitor of pox viruses. This new understanding of cowpox's place at the top of the pox virus evolutionary pyramid has allowed the researchers to learn useful methods for treating pox viruses descended from it.

The studies that are being done on cowpox's individual pieces can then be extrapolated to treat other pox viruses that are currently prevalent in society or could become so if released by bioterrorists.

The smaller cowpox pieces allow the researchers to narrow down and identify essential pieces within other viruses and create a vaccine that will be more effective.

The researchers examine the effects of a vaccine on the individual proteins held within the virus, then select only the proteins that have the strongest immune responses, which leads to a stronger virus.

The researchers believe that the breakthrough will allow for greater response to smallpox, a viable bioterror threat, as well as viruses that are similar to smallpox that are known to be in existence.