Junior scientists in Hawaii, California and Beijing Hangout On Air with eLife

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Last Wednesday we invited three early-career researchers in labs across the world to give us some insight into their respective fields, into the work they do, and into the motivations behind their research. The three were hosted as part of the “eLife-sponsored presentation series”, which highlights the junior investigators on studies published in eLife and selected by our academic editors to be showcased.

Jesse Bloom (assistant member at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle), Rosie Alegado (assistant researcher at the University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa), and Wenhui Li (assistant investigator at the National Institute of Biological Sciences) joined us from Hawaii, California and Beijing. The discussion was moderated by Dr Chris Smith, managing editor and founder of the Naked Scientists.

Here’s a short summary:

Chris began the discussion by asking Jesse about his work with the influenza virus. Jesse told us, “the really great thing about influenza and the reason I originally became interested in it is because most of the time when you look at things in evolutionary biology you have very large amounts of divergence between them.”

“Take influenza for example. If we look at the viruses that are present today in humans and pigs -- that have diverged in the roughly 90 years since 1918 -- these viruses are actually as different at the protein level as a human and a mouse. It’s pretty amazing that we can see this much evolutionary divergence. And, we can look mutation by mutation to see what happened.”

Rosie’s research “is motivated by the idea that pretty much all life has evolved in a sea of microorganisms.” Her eLife paper explores how the morphology ofSalpingoeca rosetta, a colony-forming choanoflagellate, is influenced by its interactions with various species of bacteria.

“They’re very useful because they’re the closest unicellular relative to animals. The fact that they can transition between a completely one-celled state and a temporary multi-celled structure really lends itself to asking the question: how did molecules (such as the proteins that they have) evolve to be used in the toolkit for animal multicellularity?”

Wenhui’s lab is looking at the molecular mechanisms of viral infection. In his paper Wenhui, along with his colleagues at the NIBS, identified the human hepatits B virus receptor as a sodium taurochlorate cotransporting polypeptide.

Wenhui described the importance of his work; “with the discovery of the receptor studies of hepatitis B and D virology can move faster -- much faster than ever before. I’m very glad that our work has been very well received by our colleagues within the field and the pharmaceutical companies have also begun to use our receptor in their screenings. Our research may literally help to change people’s lives in the future.”

Chris then asked all of the researchers to tell us about the driving question or objective behind their research.

“We’re all looking for the broader significance of our work” explained Rosie.

The broader significance for Jesse is the potential for his research to improve flu vaccines. “From a medical standpoint, the goal that we have for all viruses is to make an extremely effective vaccine to completely control or eradicate the virus, like was done for smallpox. I think, at least for flu, that that is an extremely challenging goal, because the virus is found not only in humans but is also found in a very large number of other hosts. It’s hard to imagine eradicating the virus from all of them and the virus is very adept at moving from one host to another. But there’s some very exciting work going on that could hopefully make influenza vaccines better.”

We’d like to thank all of the participants in this eLife Hangout On Air. All made significant effort to be with us for the discussion either by getting up at 4am, or battling firewalls.

We also look forward to hosting another Hangout On Air with the next round of early-career researchers sponsored by eLife to present their work at either the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society, or the Wellcome Trust. Details on these individuals, their work, and eLife’s efforts to back the success of junior investigators are available at;

http://elifesciences.org/eLife-recognises-early-career-researchers

For news on the next #eLifeHOA and eLife-sponsored presentation series, follow us on Twitter

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