In through the backdoor: How controlled viral replication can be immunologically advantageous

When a B cell encounters its triggering antige...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It may surprise many of you to know that some vaccines currently being used are actually composed of a living virus that actively replicates in your body in order to generate immunity. I’ve written about one of these live vaccines before on this site: the oral polio vaccine (OPV). These are effective vaccines that mount a long-term adaptive immunity to the pathogen in question.  This is done by immune cells that break down the virus and present small parts known as antigens to immature immune cells, which then mature in response to the antigen and are then capable of mounting an immune response to this same challenge in the future.

A recent paper to come out has shown one way that these live but attenuated viruses can be capable of generating such an effective immune response in vivo. Read on to see a potentially novel mechanism in generating an adaptive immune response to cytopathic viruses. Continue reading

Picking a Good Mentor

Mentoring a Demography trainee
Mentoring a Demography trainee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the most important aspects of graduate school is choosing a good mentor. Who you choose can dramatically impact your experience in both graduate school and your ensuing hunt for employment or postdoctoral positions. How do students new to a department find those faculty members who will be good mentors? What makes a good mentor in the first place? These are important questions to have in mind before choosing laboratories for research rotations and your eventual thesis. Continue reading

Ask a Microbiologist #2: Questions from a future scientist

Bacteriophage attacking a bacterial cell
Bacteriophage attacking a bacterial cell (Photo credit: AJC1)

This week I received my first piece of reader mail and it contained some great questions from an undergraduate student at what I’ll call Big U. Here’s the background:

“I’m currently still working on my bachelors, but it is my ambition to earn my PhD, become a microbiologist, and research virology and bacteriology, topics which I have found articles on in your blog. However, I am new to the world of research, and I would love to be able to get some of your insights into a potential future in this field.”

A couple of these I really wish I’d know to ask before jumping into graduate school myself. So without further ado I’ll go straight into the questions. Continue reading

We want BRAINS! Exotic brain infections in the news

Zombies Invade San Francisco!
Zombies are after your brains! (Photo credit: Scott Beale)

Maybe it’s the Halloween spirit and all the zombies I’ve been seeing everywhere, but this week I can’t help but write about two very different kinds of microbes that infect the brain.  I’ve already covered a virus that causes encephalitis and meningitis, and many bacteria can cause septic meningitis. However, the two organisms in the news this week that are causing fatal brain infections are neither a virus or bacteria, and much less common. The first is Naegleria fowleri, a warm-water dwelling amoeba; the second is Exserohilum rostratum, a nearly ubiquitous fungus found in the soil and on plants. These organisms normally live in very different environments but both have the unusual ability to infect the brain under very specific circumstances with fatal outcomes.

Click through to read more about these miniature brain-invaders and how they got into human brains in the first place. Continue reading

Guest Post: How to make the most out of a rotation once you’re there

Hello readers! I have another article posted at Gradhacker today titled “How to make the most out of a rotation once you’re there.”

This was written as a direct result of my first year in graduate school. I don’t hide the fact that I had an extremely difficult time with rotations and finding a lab that suited me. Thankfully though, I did learn a lot that first year and want to share what I took away from this experience in the hopes of helping others make it through similar situations. So head over to Gradhacker to check out my most recent article, I hope that some of you find it helpful.

Our genome is not ours alone

Dendrogram of various classes of endogenous re...
Dendrogram of various classes of endogenous retroviruses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The last twenty years have been marked by a veritable explosion in sequencing technology. The Human Genome Project and it’s completion in 2003 was the crowning jewel of this burgeoning genomics revolution and played a major role in my early introduction to science. I distinctly remember being a sophomore in high school completely fascinated with the fact that we as a species have taken it upon ourselves to read the basic text that makes us all human. It still awes me that we are capable of this level of technology and that it just keeps getting better, smaller, and faster. Case in point: I am currently sitting 20 feet from an Illumina MySeq, an object the size of a 1990s-era desktop computer capable of delivering sequencing results in 24 hours. The amount of information to come from this branch of science is literally mind-boggling and only grows with each passing day.

Interesting observations have come out of this massive amount of genomic data relating to the  non-coding DNA in our genome. Less than 2% of the over 3 billion nucleotides in our genome are responsible for coding all of the protein that makes up a human being. This leaves a large question as to what exactly that other 98% of our genome is up to. Large parts (roughly 50%) are known as “junk DNA” with no accepted role, although new research is beginning to shed light on the functions of this DNA. The remainder of our genome is composed of long and short repeated sequences, transposons, retrotransposons and the topic of today’s article: endogenous retroviruses.

These elements are not human, they are fully viral in origin. This means that our genome is not just ours alone, we carry the DNA of many viruses that infected our ancestors in every cell in our own bodies.

Keep reading to find out what an endogenous retrovirus is, why exactly these viruses have invaded our own genetic code, and the implications of this discovery for the treatment of modern retroviruses such as HIV… Continue reading