Scientists from The Pirbright Institute have worked with University College London to map the expression of genes across the entire African swine fever (ASF) virus genome.
Experts say this has helped to establish their order of activation and uncover new genes.
The research could provide vital information for those developing vaccines and antiviral drugs to prevent the deadly pig disease caused by this virus.
In their study, researchers used next generation sequencing to analyse genes expressed by ASF. From this they created the first complete genetic road map, which reveals the order different sets of ASF virus genes are turned on throughout its infection cycle.
Dr Linda Dixon, head of Pirbright’s African swine fever group, says: “ASF has a large DNA genome.
"For comparison, the influenza virus expresses eight genes, whereas ASF expresses 150-190, which has so far made it difficult for scientists to identify and determine the significance of each gene.
"Our study helps untangle which genes are important during different stages of infection to better understand their functions.”
Major African swine fever outbreaks continue to spread across Eastern Europe, Asia and Africa, which resulted in the death of nearly seven million pigs last year.
By advancing knowledge of ASF fundamental biology, this study provides vital information which will help to progress research into desperately needed disease control methods.