Engineering of African swine fever virus using synthetic biology to accelerate vaccine

African swine fever is a devastating hemorrhagic disease with mortality rates up to 100% in infected herds. It is prevalent in many sub-Saharan African countries, causing major economic losses and threatening food security. Due to its sustained occurrence and the ever-increasing global traffic of people and goods, African swine fever poses an added global threat.

There is no vaccine for the virus that causes this disease. A major roadblock has been the lack of convenient genetic tools to study this pathogen, with periods of up to a year of labour-intensive effort just to generate one or two modified viruses (to enable vaccine candidates to be generated). This project will leverage new synthetic biology tools, including CRISPR-Cas, to break down the genome of African swine fever and then reassemble it into new live vaccine candidates with the capacity for faster reproduction. This breakdown will enable the use of bioinformatics to identify proteins that induce protective immune responses as well as eliminate those responsible for disease. The reassembled virus will have the capacity to replicate as well.

The major effect of doing so will be the capacity to perform rapid and genome-wide modification of African swine fever virus and hence, significantly reduce the time to develop a variety of attenuated strains that can be tested as vaccine candidates. The research team expects to define the proteins in the African swine fever virus, generate a number of vaccine candidates using the CRISPR-cas technology, present a method for assembling the African swine fever virus genome, and present a method for booting the synthetic genome.

This project is a collaboration between the J. Craig Venter Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute with some additional collaboration from the Friedrich Loeffler Institute in Germany.
It is funded through the Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund.

The Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund is a partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Global Affairs Canada, and IDRC. It represents a joint investment of CA$57 million over five years to support the development, production, and commercialization of innovative vaccines against priority livestock diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Project ID


Project status


End Date

Tuesday, July 21, 2020


24 months

IDRC Officer

Victor Mbao

Total funding

CA$ 1,180,011




Livestock Vaccine Innovation Fund

Project Leader

Sanjay Vashee


J. Craig Venter Institute, Inc.

Institution Country

United States

Institution Website

Project Leader

Lucilla Steinaa


International Livestock Research Institute/Institut international de recherche sur l'élevage/Instituto Internacional de Investigaciones Pecuarias

Institution Country


Institution Website