Roslin briefing on African Swine Fever

Monday 29th October 2018, 4:00pm

Roslin scientists provide information on this contagious and untreatable virus that is affecting pig populations globally.

piglets in farm building - credit Roslin Institute

Following recent cases of pigs affected by African Swine Fever Virus in Belgium, Caucasus and China, scientists at The Roslin Institute scientists and Deputy Directors Professor Bruce Whitelaw and Professor Mark Stevens provide information on this contagious and untreatable virus.

African Swine Fever (ASF) is a highly contagious disease of domestic and feral pigs caused by African Swine Fever Virus (ASFV). Infection with ASFV causes haemorrhagic fever with a high mortality rate and is transmitted by biting ticks. The virus can persistently infect wild bushpigs and warthogs without causing disease. People cannot catch this disease.

There are no effective vaccines or treatments available for ASF and control of the disease relies on strict biosecurity, rapid diagnosis and the mass slaughter and appropriate disposal of all animals on affected premises. Consequently, wherever it appears, ASF has a huge impact on animal welfare, farmer livelihoods and the wider economy. 

Even though the disease is endemic to countries of sub-Saharan Africa, in 2007 ASF was introduced into the Caucasus from which it has spread both Eastwards and Westwards, recently reaching Belgium. With the increasing global movement of goods and people, there is the real threat that ASF will continue to spread across Europe and reach the UK.

At The Roslin Institute of the University of Edinburgh, three approaches are being pursued to understand ASF to design and test control strategies:


As part of EPIC (Epidemiology, Population and Infectious disease Control), the Scottish Government’s Centre of Expertise on Animal Disease Outbreaks, the movement of animals are characterised to model the spread of ASF and plan appropriate surveillance, traceability and if appropriate cull strategies.


By studying the response of populations of pigs, or cells derived from them, to ASF infection, this aims to identify those that are resistant to infection or resilient to disease. By studying the genetic make-up of these individuals, regions of the genome associated with resistance or resilience can be identified and can be selected in breeding schemes. 

Genome Editing

Different species of pig respond differently to ASF. The Roslin Institute scientists have identified genetic variation that exists between species and are now evaluating whether genome editing strategies could be used to introduce genetic variation into domestic pigs that will confer resistance to infection.