Previously unknown midge virus discovered by Glasgow scientists

glasgow university main building grounds
Credit: Taylor Robertson

Osama Abou-zeid
Writer

The research can help prepare for any future emerging risks from the virus.

Scientists at a University of Glasgow-partnered body have discovered a range of previously unknown viruses in Scottish biting midges.

The study was carried out by the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, a Medical Research Council-funded body which brings together the largest group of human and veterinary virologists in the UK.

It was entitled Metaviromics Reveals Unknown Viral Diversity in the Biting Midge Culicoides impunctatus and published in Viruses, a peer-reviewed open access virology journal.

High throughput sequencing was used to reveal the full collection of viruses within the biting midge for the first time, none of which are currently thought to pose any threat to humans.

Among the viruses discovered were alphanodaviruses, found primarily in insects and other invertebrates. However, some members of the alphanodaviruses naturally infect pigs and herons which can result in death.

Lead author Sejal Modha said: “The technology we used allowed us to look at the viruses carried by midges in a way that can’t be done in the lab, expanding our knowledge of the insect viruses in a way that could be very useful in future.”

Modha also said the midges are not a public health concern in Scotland, but the research can help prepare for any future emerging risks through surveillance and knowledge.

Co-author Joseph Hughes said what they found is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of discovering new viruses.

“Our research is important because the emergence of SBV in Europe, which is transmitted by biting midges, and the incursion of multiple strains of bluetongue virus into Europe, means we need to understand more about the diversity of viruses carried by biting midges,” Hughes said.

Scotland’s midge season usually starts mid to late May and goes on until late September.