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Viruses are microscopic organisms 100 times smaller than a bacteria cell and are responsible for illnesses ranging from the common cold and warts to HIV, rabies and Ebola. A virus comprises genetic material encased in a protein coating. There are millions of types of virus which infect organisms from bacteria to plants and animals, however only around 5,000 viruses have been described in detail to date. In this two-hour lecture, we explore the biology and social history of viruses and viral outbreaks, providing the student with an opportunity to contextualise virology and molecular biology. This lecture will be of particular use to those reading molecular biology and medical and social history.


We begin the lecture with an introduction to viruses and virology, considering the microbiology, structure and genomics of viruses. We differentiate circular viral genomes such as polyomaviruses and linear viral genomes such as adenoviruses; we study single-stranded viral genomes, double-stranded viral genomes and 'mixed' genome families such as Hepadnaviridae; and we exemplify small viral genomes such as ssDNA circoviruses and large viral genomes such as pandoraviruses. In the second part of this lecture, we provide a focus on rabies, a disease associated with inflammation of the brain and caused by several lyssaviruses. For thousands of years, rabies was considered to be one of the most horrific illnesses to acquire. Here, we detail its nature, history, transmission and virology. We recount the work of Louis Pasteur and his development of a rabies vaccine. In the final section of this talk, we consider viruses such as the ebolaviruses, detailing their virology and life cycles, and focusing on prevention and management. Thus, we examine the 1976 outbreaks in Sudan and Zaire alongside the 2013-2016 West African outbreak and the work of the World Health Organisation. This brings to a close a fascinating lecture that deals with molecular biology and genomics, virology, social history, scientific development and modern public health medicine.

For further information and a programme, please email Dr Guy Sutton at the address in the footer below.

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