RNA virus emergence, evolution, and pathogenesis

The overarching goal of our research is to understand how RNA viruses overcome evolutionary barriers to emerge and cause disease in humans. We study the ways that viruses evolve within individual hosts, and during transmission to new hosts, to do things like evade detection from innate and adaptive immunity or acquire the ability to infect new cell, tissue, and host types. Through our discoveries, we hope to contribute to the global campaigns against emerging and re-emerging pathogens like influenza, Zika, HIV, and now the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

We are firm believers in open science. Data, protocols, and other resources from our SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 projects are available publicly at our open research portal, hosted by LabKey. 

Currently the lab is focusing on 3 main research areas:

Katarina Braun preparing SARS-CoV-2 sample for sequencing
MD-PhD student Katarina Braun preparing SARS-CoV-2 cDNA sample for sequencing.
  1. We are sequencing SARS-CoV-2 genomes to track the emergence and spread of variants in the Midwest and to understand patterns of virus transmission and evolution. A major current interest is to understand how persistent SARS-CoV-2 infections might contribute to the evolution and emergence of new variants.
  2. We are studying how influenza viruses evolve within and between hosts. One set of projects uses a cool library of barcoded influenza viruses to track how viruses diversify within infected hosts and across transmission bottlenecks.
  3. We are working with a consortium of investigators to understand how immune responses that cross-react with Zika virus and dengue viruses might contribute to the disease processes associated with these viruses.

More generally, our work focuses on virus-host interactions in humans and animals, including nonhuman primates. Because monkeys’ physiology, genetics, and immune systems so closely resemble our own, they often provide the best possible approximation of human infection and immunity. These same attributes make nonhuman primates an important reservoir for emerging and re-emerging viruses. My lab is affiliated with the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, which provides expert veterinary care and support for the nonhuman primates used in research on campus.

WNPRC affiliation and services

I also direct the Virology Services Unit at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. This group provides expert support to virological research conducted at WNPRC.