Filoviruses, which include ebola- and marburgviruses, are notifiable animal disease agents. The natural hosts of these viruses are bats; however, livestock, and particularly pigs, have also been shown to harbor filoviruses. As zoonotic agents filoviruses can be transmitted from animals to humans, and then cause severe hemorrhagic fevers with extremely high case fatality rates. The unprecedented outbreak of ebolavirus hemorrhagic fever in Western Africa in 2014/2015 has demonstrated that these viruses constitute a major threat to public health. While significant progress has recently been made in the development of vaccines and potential therapeutics, there are still no approved countermeasures available.
Our focus is the molecular biology of filoviruses, with a particular emphasis on virus-host interactions and the molecular biology of the virus lifecycle. The aim is to find commonalities between filoviruses and other virus families, which can serve as targets for broad spectrum antivirals that are active not only against filoviruses, but also against other RNA viruses.
A methodological focus is the development and application of reverse genetics systems for filoviruses. This includes the generation of recombinant infectious ebolaviruses, which have to be studied under biosafety level 4 conditions, i.e. in a maximum containment laboratory, and which for example can be used to visualize infections in host cells by using fluorescent reporter proteins. In addition, a major focus is the development and application of life-cycle-modelling systems, which allow us to model either individual aspects or the complete virus life cycle without the need for high containment laboratories. These systems, which allow more widespread research on filoviruses without relying on costly infrastructure, are used in our lab to dissect the virus life cycle, but also form the basis for the development of novel antivirals, vaccines and diagnostics for animals as well as for humans.