London: Scientists may be a step closer to developing a vaccine for a virus that is killing scores of Asian elephants, listed as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
A team of scientists from the University of Glasgow, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency and The Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh) has deciphered the genetic maps of the two most lethal kinds of elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHVs).
The viruses cause a fatal haemorrhagic disease which has claimed lives of nearly 80 captive animals till now, a statement issued by the Univesity said.
The disease is usually deadly for young elephants aged between one and four, and while mainly a concern for captive elephants, the viruses are also found in wild animals.
Anti-viral medications have been used to treat infected animals but their efficacy is unknown.
EEHVs were discovered 15 years ago, but the viruses are difficult to study and none of them have been isolated in the laboratory, the statement said.
It added that the researchers used high-throughput DNA sequencing technology to map the genomes of two viruses and discovered many genes not found in other herpesviruses.
The findings will help scientists improve diagnostic tests and develop vaccines with the aim of helping protect the flagship species from extinction.
Dr Andrew Davison of the Medical Research Council-- University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research, who led the study, said, "It is vital that we undertake successful conservation activities to prevent the extinction of these wonderful animals...This research should bring us closer to improving diagnoses of infected elephants and more importantly help us develop vaccines against the viruses.
The research is published in the Journal of Virology.