2017

Summer

It's that time of year when we take a deep breath and prepare for the onslaught of work that accompanies the start of the academic year in the fall and look back on the past academic year.

We have had a great few months. To note a few recent advances:

  • We continue to learn a lot about Zika virus. We recently showed there is a theoretical risk of oral Zika virus transmission, but that the real-world transmission risk is low to non-existent. In collaboration with Matt Aliota, we developed a system for infecting macaque monkeys using Zika virus-infected mosquitoes. Coupled with a molecularly bar-coded Zika virus we prepared in collaboration with Greg Ebel and colleagues, we are looking forward to understanding the dynamics of Zika virus transmission and replication in pregnant and non-pregnant individuals.
  • Zika virus damages the eyes of fetuses born to mothers infected during pregnancy — does this mean that the risk to human babies is higher than currently thought? Or is this an artifact of the animal model that we study?
  • Exciting new genomics technologies allow us to explore immune genes with unprecedented resolution. We now have Illumina, Pacific Biosciences, Oxford Nanopore, HiC, and 10X Genomics data in the lab. Still learning how to best analyze and integrate all of these new types of data. We have also sequenced entire macaque transcriptomes using Pacific Biosciences isoSeq technology. We hope this will lead to better interpretation of macaque whole exome and whole genome sequencing data. I'm also hoping to replicate our Zika data sharing initiative to provide access to these interesting genomics datasets.
  • The more we learn about simian arteriviruses the more we are convinced they share worrisome features with simian immunodeficiency viruses and should be studied as possible future zoonoses.
  • We are working with several groups to identify viruses and virus-specific antibody responses in human and nonhuman primate samples. Our unique niche in this area is the ability to take interesting observations from sequencing and follow-up with laboratory studies, as we did when we created the first monkey model for understanding pegivirus infections. We have also used exciting new high-density peptide arrays to identify antibodies reactive to both known and unknown viruses; for example, we used this technology to identify regions of strong immunogenicity in Zika virus.

All of these projects are only possible because of the lab's great staff. This time of year is bittersweet, as we have staff transitioning to med school residency, medical school, and veterinary school. I am very excited to see what terrific work they will do in the future but it is sad to see them leave the lab.

If you are reading this because you are considering applying for a position in the lab or are an incoming student, I strongly encourage you to read about our research and my employment philosophy. I think my lab provides a fast-paced, challenging environment for highly motivated scientists who are committed to understanding the interplay of viral pathogenesis, genomics, and immunology.