How does a virus replicate a genome?

Nicole Herr is studying a PhD in the School of Biological Sciences.

"I have a passion for understanding the world around us on a molecular level which was passed on to me by my granddad and intensified during high school where I had an inspirational teacher. 

"My grandad used to take me on hikes around the countryside where we would collect stones, rocks and even emeralds to later specify them from books at home. He was such an enthusiastic person about everything related to nature, and looking back I realise that he ignited this passion for science in me from an early age.

"I use a variety of molecular biology (e.g. cloning, protein purification) and biophysical tools to help understand the way a particular group of viruses replicate their genomes. As their mechanism is very different from the host cells (i.e. humans) this may be valuable for pursuing future drug development.

A typical day would involve growing bacterial cells which can be manipulated to produce a viral protein that I would like to study. On a different day these cells can be broken down and a variety of methods used to retrieve my protein of interest. 

Nicole Herr

"When all these methods are established, the main work involves a variety of biophysical techniques to characterise the protein. The main technique I applied – called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy – allows to investigate for example the structure or motions of a protein on an atomic level. But of course – apart
from the experimental work – I also spend a considerable amount of time on data analysis and writing up my results.

"I like that research is very organic which means every day is different and you have to be quite creative in finding novel ways to answer the questions you have.

"What has surprised me in the course of my research is the many unexpected directions my project took during the course of my studies, through new insights or simply by discussing my project with other researchers and trying out new methods.

"During the course of my investigations and a detailed review of the literature, I found a variety of novel pathways that should be explored to further understand the function of my viral protein.

"My research enabled the characterisation of a viral protein and therefore provided a contribution to the fundamental understanding of this essential protein towards answering the question about how these viruses replicate in the host cell and may ultimately enable a targeted drug development.

"I work closely with a variety of other departmental and faculty-wide collaborators. As part of my main studies, I work closest with the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance facility located in the Science faculty. The technology and the countless insightful discussions
immensely contributed to the success of my research and publications.

"Apart from being part of an academic institution which includes many great researchers and having access to a wide range of state-of-the-art equipment, I enjoy the welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. This enables many great (non-)scientific conversations
and helps ease the day-to-day workload.

"Try to seek advice and guidance from as many people (inside and outside the University) as you can. This will help to see the big picture even during times where things get tough, and allows you to learn a lot more than you would have on your own.

"Whenever I hit a seemingly unsurmountable obstacle, it helps to take some time away from this part of the project and pursue another goal instead. I find that this helps to give me time to think about different ways of approaching this challenge or simply
discuss it with others who may be able to provide helpful advice.

"I am a Teaching Assistant for the School of Biological Sciences. This work is a great way to have an exchange with young students and allowed me to impart my knowledge to the next generation of scientists. It has also helped to expand my interpersonal skills and is a great preparation for future teaching roles."


Nicole's supervisor is Dr Richard Kingston, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences.