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I knew it was going to be an eventful conference when halfway down the runway at Heathrow at ca. 100 m. p. h. our SAA captain aborted the take off because of a computer error, restarting the whole procedure 1 hour later. Nevertheless all went well thereafter and we arrived in Cape Town on time and the conference was off and running with the essential welcome reception and general ‘meet and greet’.
This conference was rather different to normal virology meetings in that it encompassed everything from animal virology to plant virology via veterinary virology and fungal virology, this being the breadth of the infection capacity of double-stranded (ds) RNA viruses. The programme on the conference reflected this with sessions and indeed days devoted to replication and expression, structure and assembly, protein structure and function, virus cell interactions, immunity and prevention and pathogenesis and pathophysiology of representatives of all dsRNA viruses. Notwithstanding the importance of the plant and fungal dsRNA viruses the pathological importance of the orbiviruses and rotaviruses demanded centre stage on all conference days. Interestingly because of difficulties in generating cDNA clones for the numerous dsRNA components of both the orbiviruses and rotaviruses, reverse genetics has yet to be used for these viruses. Such full-length cDNA clones for the generation of infectious RNAs have been available for many years for several fungal dsRNA viruses and their use to investigate aspects of hypervirulence in totiviruses and synergism in hypoviruses were well documented by Professor Said Ghabrial and Dr N. Suzuki, from the Nuss laboratory. However two excellent presentations by Dr S. Komoto and Professor Polly Roy illustrated that reverse genetics is surely just around the scientific corner for orbiviruses and rotaviruses.
Further highlights of the first two days of the meeting included the as ever excellent presentation of Dennis Bamford on dsRNA virion structure and RNA replication and reflections on 40 years of reovirus research by Professor Joklik. Indeed Dr Joklik must have been staggered at the level of research interest in the reovirus group from its humble beginnings with over 150 scientists assembling at this meeting. As is normal at the halfway point in International meetings a road trip excursion intervened in the proceedings and involved an excellent trip to a winery with tastings and an ostrich farm with no tastings. Your author enjoyed the former to the point of not fully appreciating the viewing of Table Mountain from the Blouberg beach but the Pinotage was well worth it!
Back to conference business for the final two days of the meeting and time to review the posters and assess the epidemiological aspects or reoviruses and emerging pathogens. These aspects were of especial interest to me and I was able to glean novel technology for use in our fungal dsRNA virus research relating to the generation of large quantities of genomic sequence. Our work on dsRNAs associated with fungal diseases of cherry was well-received in this section. The final day of the meeting was an additional day, originally not scheduled, and concerned rotavirus vaccines and mainly the companies that sell them. Unfortunately for some, but not your author, this programme followed the Symposium dinner where a combination of South African delicacies, wines, beers and dancing, in that order took its toll. This was a splendid and colourful finale to the meeting. Announced at the end of the final session was the all important venue for the next dsRNA meeting which will happen in Australia, adding another 13 hours of travel to attend, but if it’s anywhere as varied and exciting as this meeting was, it will be well worthwhile. I thank the BSPP enormously for the opportunity to attend the Symposium, to visit South Africa for the first time and to meet and interact with a whole range of new colleagues in the dsRNA virus world.
Robert Coutts Imperial College.