Dr. Mark Fife leads the Genetics and Genomics group at The Pirbright Institute. He is a complex-disease geneticist with extensive experience in complex trait analysis (QTL and association studies), candidate gene mapping and molecular biology techniques. He has produced over 45 peer-reviewed publications and book chapters in this area before becoming a group leader at the Institute. His work has been the focus of extensive genome-wide and haplotype analysis using web-based SNP selector software that he has implemented at Pirbright. This work has culminated in the identification and characterisation of several causal genes for important immune traits in chickens. His current research found a group of related genes called the interferon-inducible transmembrane (IFITM) genes, that are able to prevent viruses from attacking and killing host cells. The aim of his groups work is to determine the biology and genetic variation of these and similar immune genes in chickens; specifically, the ability of these genes to protect the host against avian viruses. The output of this work will be in identifying specific gene variants that correlate with resistance to a number of avian viruses, thus allowing poultry breeding programmes to select robust chickens, able to fight viral infections.
The research has also revealed that a reduction in chIFITM expression results in an increase in the virus titre in CEFs infected with avian influenza A virus (AIV) H9N2, suggesting that chIFITMs have a functional role in the control of viral infections. The observation may have useful implications in terms of vaccine production. Many vaccines have been produced in embryonated hen’s eggs or continuous avian cell lines for more than 30 years. However, it is well established that the rate determining step in the manufacture of numerous vaccines is the induction of antiviral immune responses that prevents the replication of vaccine viruses.
The group aim to generate chIFITM K/Os using cutting edge genetic approaches such the CRISPR/Cas9 system which will directly target and knock-out chIFITM expression. They believe that this approach will overcome the rate limiting step in vaccine production, directly resulting in increased vaccine yields and improve the speed at which vaccines can be manufactured. They are currently in talks with major vaccine producers keen to adopt this internationally patented technology, to advance the field of both animal and human vaccine production.