The Robertson Group
Our computational virology/bioinformatics research group is interested in virus evolution and the specificity of virus-host relationships. We study virus-host interactions and change in viral genomes in order to analyse and model in silico the nature of species ‘choice’ in infection, virus life cycles and determinants of cross-species transmission/host-switching. Studying these processes in eukaryotes is important for understanding acute versus persistent infection, pathogenicity, transmission success and for predicting the emergence of new human or animal pathogens. In prokaryotes both bacterial viruses (bacteriophage/phage) and archaeal viruses are important components and regulators of the microbiome. In the case of phage, virus destruction of host bacteria can be harnessed as a safe therapeutic replacement for antibiotics. A key to successful prediction of virus-host interactions and potential for host-switching will be to understand how virus populations interact with and exploit host systems.
Outside of cells viruses are mostly inert as they are entirely dependent on a host cell for replication. This use of host cells (eukaryotic, bacterium or archaeon) results in the need for highly specific molecular interactions in order to ‘target’ the appropriate cell type to infect (e.g., recognition of specific host cell surface receptors) and subsequently to interact, and intricately control host-cellular ‘machinery’. Hosts of course respond to viruses and have evolved molecular (immune) systems to counteract infection. This can range from clearing the infection, ignoring it, or in some cases co-opting the virus. Leading to symbiotic, usually parasitic, but in some cases mutualistic relationships.
The key to understanding viruses and moderating the degree of harm they cause (virulence) is thus to take a molecular evolutionary perspective and combine this with systems biology/‘omics data to model the workings of the host cell, the viruses usurping of the host cell, and responses by the host system to infection. This aim of our research group focuses the study of viruses on BOTH their own and their host’s genome/proteome and the combined molecular interactions involved in the intracellular dynamics of infection, in the context of the entangled co-evolution of viruses and host species. In the case of the virome (the full set of eukaryote and prokaryote viruses in an individual) our research also requires an ecological perspective to understand co-occurrence networks and the role of both direct and indirect species interactions, including how these cycle through time and associate with disease states.
If you'd like to work with us and have experience in virology, bioinformatics, computer science, evolutionary, computational and/or systems biology, biostatistics and/or machine learning we welcome applications for PhD and postdoctoral positions at any time. Examples of projects include the computational study of: virus diversity & evolution, virus-host molecular interaction networks, predicting virus evolution and host responses, metagenomics, the virome and bacteriophage therapy. We can also host independent research fellowships. If you have any questions please e-mail: email@example.com.