Adventures in the Virosphere

Charting the world of viruses

virosphere
Viruses are everywhere – you are surrounded by them, yet we know remarkably little about them. Take an adventure into the virosphere with the Sydney Science Forum on Wednesday 12 September.

Most of the DNA and RNA on earth comes from viruses because there are so many of them. Discover how new technological developments in ‘metagenomics’ are allowing us to obtain a glimpse of this total universe of viruses – the virosphere – for the first time.

Professor Edward Holmes will reveal research showing that viruses are far older, more diverse and more complex than we realised, and that their reputation for always causing severe disease is perhaps misplaced.

Find out how these metagenomics techniques are also allowing diagnosis of novel infectious diseases with incredible accuracy.

We ask Professor Edward Holmes’ PhD student, Erin Harvey, to share her viral world.

virosphere
Erin Harvey PhD Candidate, School of Life and Environmental Sciences Faculty of Science

“In my research, I have focused on cases of undiagnosed tick associated disease in Australia and this has been divided into two smaller projects,” said Erin.

“The first was virus discovery in Australian ticks with the aim of finding viruses that might ultimately be associated with human disease. I sequenced RNA extracted from ticks collected from bandicoots in North Head National Park (Sydney) and Timbillica (southern NSW). I found 19 novel viruses, one of which shows a phylogenetic relationship to a human pathogen, Colorado tick fever virus.

“The second project was a study of undiagnosed tick associated disease from patients living in the Sydney region. I extracted RNA from skin, blood and eschar samples taken from patients experiencing physical symptoms following tick bite, for which all standard lab results returned negative. We submitted these samples for unbiased total RNA sequencing and mined the data in search of known or novel pathogens,” explained Erin.

“My younger sister contracted meningitis at five weeks of age and has a high needs disability as a result, so, to me, real-world research is an approach to helping people and making a difference in cases where patients and their families are left vulnerable and frustrated by a lack of answers and limited treatment options.

“I hope to continue investigating the virome of parasitic insects and the threat that they pose as vectors of novel diseases. My work with Professor Eddie Holmes has allowed me to develop skills in disease detection and discovery of novel viruses, and the ability to design and carry out research projects.”

Source : The University of Sydney