Over millions of years of evolution, humans have acquired many ways to control viral infection. We are not defenceless (evidence: we are all here!), but we don't really understand how these antiviral defence mechanisms work. The McCormick Lab is dedicated to the discovery and characterization of human antiviral defences. Because many of these defences work by preventing the synthesis of viral proteins, we are particularly interested in understanding the interplay between viruses and cellular protein synthesis machinery.
We have co-evolved with our viruses. From a genetic standpoint, viruses are engaged in a chess match with their human hosts; rapid viral evolution allows them to acquire new genes (or modify existing ones) that specifically undermine host defences. In the McCormick Lab, we study the properties of these viral genes. Viruses are excellent teachers, and the study of these viral countermeasures often provides new insights into the fundamental biology of cells and the human immune system.
It isn't feasible to study ALL of the viruses (we wish...), so we study a few viruses that have big impacts on human health:
- Influenza Viruses: These viruses cause seasonal respiratory infections and every few decades a completely new strain emerges that causes a pandemic. These viruses can move between human and animal hosts, and they mutate rapidly and share genes with each other. We are investigating fundamental aspects of influenza virus biology and interactions with human host cells, which may inform the development of superior vaccines and antiviral drugs.
To learn more about our influenza virus research, click here.
- Herpesviruses: All eight known human herpesviruses have co-evolved with our human (and primate) ancestors for millennia. These viruses have big genomes, and many of their genes have not yet been characterized. They all share the ability to establish long-term persistent infection of their hosts. In other words, like the T-shirt says, "love is temporary, but herpes is forever..." We study several human herpesviruses including herpes simplex virus type 1 (oral herpes) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (genital herpes). Our primary focus is on the most recently discovered human herpesvirus, human herpesvirus-8, also known as the Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV). KSHV is the infectious cause of Kaposi's sarcoma and several other AIDS-related cancers. We are still figuring out how this fascinating virus evades detection by the immune system and causes cancer. The accumulating evidence suggests that KSHV-linked cancers are caused by the combined action of dozens of viral genes. To learn more about our herpesvirus research, click here.