Research Associate Professor
Molecular and Cellular Biology; RNA; Virology
My research is dedicated to the folding of biological macromolecules such as ribonucleic acids and proteins into higher-order structures and to the role their conformation plays in the way they exert their function within the cell. In particular, my research group studies RNA structural switches involved in the replication of RNA viruses and subviral RNA pathogens. We also study RNA and protein structures that contribute to the regulation of gene expression in other microbial systems through specific RNA-RNA and RNA-protein interactions.
Plus-strand RNA viruses are responsible for many diseases in humans, animals and plants. Our efforts are focused on an early step in the viral life cycle within the host cell, the recruitment of the viral RNA genome into a replication complex with viral and cellular proteins. We use yeast as a model host to express two RNA replicons, turnip crinkle virus associated with satellite RNA, by itself or in the presence of viral replication proteins, and potato spindle tuber viroid RNA. Satellites and viroids are subviral RNAs that do not encode their own proteins; they rely entirely on factors provided by the associated helper virus or the host cell. The smaller size and simpler organization of their genome makes them convenient model systems to investigate the role of RNA structure in recognition by viral and host proteins, structural changes involved in these interactions, molecular evolution and intracellular transport. Our goal is to develop a fully controlled replication system where every component is tractable and tunable using tools from genetics, biochemistry, cellular and molecular biology. With this system, we will be able to screen for RNA replication inhibitors and develop RNA vectors with novel functions.
I enjoy teaching and mentoring students from a variety of disciplines in the laboratory as well as in the classroom. I believe that meaningful faculty/student interaction is mutually beneficial: it helps students grow into well-rounded citizen-scientists, researchers or health care professionals, and it helps me become a better educator. In my research group, I deeply value and strive to foster diversity. I believe a diverse team creates a more energizing and successful research environment--one where everyone learns from one another and the range of backgrounds and perspectives adds up to a rich learning environment that is much more than the sum of its parts.
I am the course director for, and teach in Microbiology for Allied Health Professionals. On the graduate level, I direct the master’s program and teach in the core course of virology.