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Cells form the basis of all living cells. Whether is a bacterium, a fungus, a blue whale, or a large sequoia tree – all organisms are made up of at least one cell. Their components regulate all aspects of life as we know it and the most basic categorization of organisms, prokaryotes and eukaryotes, relies on different cell types. Within a multicellular organism, cellular diversity provides specialization for different tasks (e.g. reproduction, environmental protection, immune control, etc) and together they orchestrate overall organismal function and survival.

On the other hand, viruses are small subcellular agents that are unable to multiply outside a host cell and are thus obligate parasites. They can essentially infect all forms of life (bacteria, plants, protozoa, fungi, insects, fish, reptiles, birds, and mammals) and have shaped several aspects of natural selection throughout evolution. The components of the virus particle (also known as virion) are synthesized separately within the cell and then assembled to form infectious progeny particles. The intracellular environment provides the building blocks and biosynthetic machinery that the virus needs to replicate and, to some extent, protection against some of the host’s immune system. Due to their extreme dependence for cellular factors to replicate, targeting viral infections through highly-selective antiviral agents has proven to be challenging. Viruses also exhibit different layers of tropism and often infect very specific cell types within the organism. Understanding the mechanisms by which distinct viruses enter, utilize host cell factors to replicate within, and exit from the cells they infect is thus crucial for the development of new therapeutics.

I study the interactions between viruses and the cells they infect. I am particularly interested in the identification and characterization of host factors required for viral replication in specific cells. I believe that understanding how these intracellular parasites re-purpose host cell factors for their benefit can similarly teach us about principles of cell biology that would have been almost impossible to study otherwise. My life revolves in trying to understand the fine balance that occurs during viral infections that ultimately dictates the outcome of disease.

Infected Cardiac Fibroblast_Efra
Image: A culture of murine cardiac fibroblasts infected with reovirus. The nuclei of each cell is in cyan, their mitochondria in red, and microtubules in magenta. The green compartments in the middle cell are sites of viral replication. Micrograph by E.E.R-S., 2013