Influenza viruses have been intensively studied for decades, but a surprising amount of their basic biology is poorly understood. We use a combination of molecular virology, mass spectrometry and advanced microscopy to uncover the fundamental biological properties of these important viral pathogens.
We study how virus particles form and what makes them infectious. We work particularly on the influenza viruses, a family which causes seasonal and pandemic influenza in humans, as well as being a major pathogen of livestock. Some of our main areas of research are outlined below.
If you are interested in working with us and would like to know how we approach this work - and how we support each other as we do so - please have a look at our lab handbook.
What are influenza viruses made from?
We are interested in how influenza viruses can produce such a diverse set of proteins despite their small genomes. For example, we discovered that influenza viruses, and many of their relatives, encode a novel class of cryptic ‘upstream proteins.’ We also study how the proteins that influenza viruses encode are modified during infections, and how this affects the course of infection and immunity.
How do influenza virus particles form?
We are interested in the components that can be used to make influenza virus particles. Using mass spectrometry, we showed that influenza virus particles are heterogeneous assemblies of viral and host-encoded material, and we have examined how their composition can vary between hosts, strains and conditions. We have used these approaches to build detailed, integrative models of virus particles as well as to better understand vaccine production methods. We also study the formation of virus particles directly, looking particularly at the striking but understudied filamentous virus particles that are characteristic of natural influenza infections.
What makes influenza virus particles infectious?
Our long-term ambition as a group is to understand how the diverse mixture of variable virus particles that are produced from infected cells interact to shape the course of influenza virus infections within and between hosts.
Research group members
Calum Bentley Abbot
As a group, we are particularly interested in asking questions about viral molecular biology. However, viruses operate across a wide range of scales, and thanks to our collaborators so do we. Many of our projects involve working closely with other groups, including structural biologists, immunologists, cell biologists and biomedical illustrators.
Influenza Virus Resources
Influenza Virus Toolkit
We are leading the development of the Influenza Virus Toolkit, a national reagent resource which aims to simplify the challenges of preserving, identifying and sharing the reagents developed by influenza research groups. The Toolkit will be developed in collaboration with the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit at the University of Dundee (PPU) and the MRC Human Immunology Unit at the University of Oxford (HIU) over the period 2022 – 2023. If you have any questions or would like to donate reagents to the resource, please contact Ed Hutchinson.
Are you considering starting an influenza virology project? This article answers background questions that often come up when people start their first research project on influenza viruses.
A protocol for purifying influenza virus particles can be found here, and a protocol showing how to combine this with mass spectrometry proteomics can be found here.
Influenza Models and Images
High-resolution images, animations, 3D prints and educational materials relating to influenza virus particles, produced in collaboration with The Glasgow School of Art, can be downloaded here. Further educational materials can be found here.
Members of the group have a keen interest in public engagement and communication. We’ve developed many public engagement activities, from podcasts to augmented reality apps, and from 3D prints to papercraft activities.
- You can download 3D models, images and worksheets about virus particles here and here.
- The Visible Viruses augmented reality app can be found here.
- The SARS-CoV-2 Spike Mutation Explorer, an app that helps to explain SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, can be found here.
- Other projects, including the Virus Snowflakes papercraft activity and the Art Goes Viral colouring book, can be found in the CVR’s Educational Resources section, here.
Talks and Other Media
If you'd like to hear more about our work and how we do it, we've been in a few podcasts and videos.
- Upstream gene products: Léa Meyer talks about our 2020 study here and TWiV discuss it here.
- Superinfection exclusion: Anna Sims talks about our 2023 study here.
- External research webinars from 2019, 2021 and 2021.
Communication and Visualisation
- Some of our collaborations with The Glasgow School of Art are described in this video.
- Annabel Slater talks about developing a detailed model of SARS-CoV-2 here.
- Sarah Iannucci talks about creating an app to explore SARS-CoV-2 mutations here.
- Ed Hutchinson talks about the Virus Snowflakes outreach activity in this prize lecture.
- Ed and Sarah talk about visualising and researching viruses here.
- Jack Hirst was a host of the CVR's podcast, whose archive is here.
- Ed talks about the group's aims and about starting a research group here.
- Anna talks about being LGBTQIA+ in STEM here (short video) and here (long-form discussion).
- Ed talks to The Naked Scientists about why 'gain of function' experiments can be useful here and about H5N1 avian influenza here.
- Ed talks about a case of scientists choosing collaboration over competition here and here, and writes about it here.
Previous Group Members
We’ve been lucky to work with many fantastic researchers who are now continuing their careers elsewhere. They are:
Michaela Conley (Analytical Services Scientist, Sartorius), Rob Gifford, Seema Jasim (Associate Clinical Scientist, NHS Lothian), Pippa McIlwaine (Medical Writer, Oxford PharmaGenesis), Liz Sloan (Medical Writer, Oxford PharmaGenesis)
Jack Hirst (Scientist, AstraZeneca), Jake MacLeod (Science Technician, Boclair Academy)
Hong Chen, Austra Cukura, Daniel Goldfarb, Sarah Iannucci, Ryan Imrie, Elif Kurum, Huijing (Alana) Li, Jake MacLeod, Janhavi Mada, Urja Dharmesh Mavani, Tom Moreton, Naina Nair, Lauren Orr, Vaidehi Patel, Yuan Shu, Nawal Soom, Rachael Suétt, Luke Thorley
Daniel Sanchez, Patrick Shearer, Laura Burgess Tornaletti, Joanna Wojtus
Vacation students and freelancers
Amy Burke, Megan McConnell, Daniel Millar, Adeola Onumonu, Annabel Slater, Rachael Suétt