Reptile skin successfully engineered in US lab; good news for endangered turtles
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Researchers at the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Centre have created turtle skin in the laboratory, allowing the close study of a virus which affects an endangered species of turtle.
This is the first time non-mammalian skin has been successfully engineered in a lab.
The scientists used cells from tumours and healthy turtle skin to recreate the three-dimensional structure of the skin. Within this skin, they grew a virus: chelonid herpes virus 5 (ChHV5).
This virus is associated with a disease, fibropapillomatosis (FP), which affects endangered green turtles. It leads to damage to the immune system, disfiguring tumours, infections and death.
“Fibropapillomatosis is the most common infectious disease affecting endangered green turtles,” said Dr Thierry Work, a researcher at the National Wildlife Health Centre.
“Our findings provide a significant advancement in studying FP and may eventually help scientists better understand other herpes virus-induced tumour diseases, including those of humans.”
While ChHV5 was discovered more than 20 years ago, scientists have been unable to study the virus until now. The artificial turtle skin allowed the researchers to study how the virus causes tumours and begin to develop blood tests to detect it.
Using the samples, the researchers observed virus replication in outstanding detail, revealing sun-shaped virus replication centre where the viruses form within cells.
“Examining viruses within the complex three-dimensional structure of engineered skin is exciting, because virus replication in such a system is likely much closer to reality than traditional laboratory techniques, “said Dr Work.
“This method could be a powerful tool for answering broader questions about virus-induced tumours in reptiles and herpes virus replication in general.”