THE TALK: What we are learning from a virus that reprograms our nervous system
Of the hundreds of known human viruses, the vast majority infect the airways and digestive tract. Some of these viruses can inadvertently infect the nervous system and cause severe disease that may result in paralysis or encephalitis. A rare few, including the commonplace herpes simplex virus, are proficient neuroinvaders that have evolved to use the nervous system to their advantage. This talk will examine the genetics underlying herpes simplex virus, and how the DNA code encased in this minute particle is translated into a complex infectious program that brings the virus into the nervous system and back out again. While these infections can be lethal by their very nature, most of us are unaware of the viruses’ presence or perhaps simply suffer from the social stigma of a cold sore. From cold sores to encephalitis, we will delve into the surprisingly complex and stealthy herpes simplex virus and learn some secrets of our own biology along the way.
Greg Smith is an associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. In the 1970’s he spent a good chunk of his childhood learning to code games on computers, but while attending college at the University of California Santa Barbara became entranced by the genetic code found in nature. He is particularly intrigued by viruses and the elegant clockwork mechanisms built into these nanomachines.
Greg’s research is focused at the interface of human-pathogen interactions, and along the way he has produced tools to genetically reprogram viruses that are being used to develop vaccines and cancer treatments at several biotech companies and in his own lab. He is a fan of collaborative science and is engaged in interdisciplinary research with geneticists and neuroscientists across the country.
He is a fellow of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Life Science Research Foundation, and Schweppe Foundation, and his research is featured in college textbooks including Molecular Biology of the Cell and Principles of Virology. Greg established his laboratory in 2001 following his graduate and post-doctoral studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.