More accurately, we should say “welcome back,” since Princeton University is Aaron’s alma mater! After completing his bachelor’s degree at Princeton (and doing research on protein-protein interactions of HSV-1), Aaron completed his Ph.D. in Virology at Harvard University in the lab of Pardis Sabeti, where he studied the evolution and host-virus interactions of Ebola virus using genomic tools.
Now that he’s back at Princeton, Aaron will do a joint postdoc, splitting his time between the Ploss lab and the Adamson lab.
Says Aaron, “I’m generally interested in how viruses and hosts co-exist and co-evolve and how this shapes molecular mechanisms and disease outcomes over time. I’m very excited to think more about host range and cross-species transmission in the Ploss Lab!”
And we’re very excited to have you join us, Aaron!
This month, we have the pleasure of welcoming our newest research technician, Thomas Cafiero!
Thomas joins us from Rutgers University, where we obtained a degree in Biological Sciences and conducted research on Lyme Disease – specifically the interaction between host factors and the Borrelia burgdorferi outer membrane.
Having always been interested in human pathogens, Thomas says he was “drawn to the innovative approaches that the Ploss lab uses to study some very globally relevant viruses. Plus I heard it’s one of the coolest labs at Princeton!” (We didn’t even ask him to say that.)
We can’t wait to start working with you in person, Thomas!
This summer, we welcome our newest MolBio rotation student, Michael Schwoerer!
Michael graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a BA in Biology, a concentration in Mechanisms of Disease, and a minor in Biophysics. His previous experience includes research into viral egress of Lassa, Ebola and Marburg viruses as well as small molecule inhibitors of HIV budding. Now that he’s in the Ploss lab, Michael is excited to learn more about factors that modify tissue and host tropism for positive sense, single stranded viruses.
Says Michael, “I’ve always been interested in RNA viruses! Apart from their sociological/historical importance, they are among the most incredible entities in biology. With only a handful of genes, they routinely hijack and conquer organisms of infinitely greater complexity.”
During his rotation, Michael hopes to combine virology with biochemistry, biophysics and mathematical modeling. Welcome to the lab, Michael!
We’re thrilled to welcome back Jiayu Zhang as our newest MolBio PhD student! Jiayu previously worked with us as a visiting student back in September 2018-April 2019 and then as a MolBio rotation student in Fall 2019. During those times, he helped with a number of projects related to yellow fever virus and dengue virus and he showcased some very impressive karaoke skills! Jiayu, it’s good to have you back in lab permanently for the next few years!
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ploss Lab has teamed up with the MacMillan Group to identify cellular host factors that facilitate viral entry of SARS-CoV-2. This collaboration was highlighted by a Princeton University press release, found here. The article quotes Alex as saying:
Viruses are highly dependent on a multitude of host factors to go through their infection cycles, and SARS-CoV-2 is no exception. Many of these cellular factors are not yet defined for SARS-CoV-2. Any one of such host factors could represent a target for therapeutic intervention. We aim to define precisely which molecules SARS-CoV-2 interacts with during viral uptake and during viral replication.
Since SARS-CoV-2 can only be handled under very strict biosafety conditions, two Ploss Lab postdocs, Tomokazu Tamura and Saori Suzuki, have been preparing a SARS-CoV-2 pseudoparticle, which retains a similar molecular composition as the normal virus but is non-infectious. Combining this pseudoparticle with the MacMillan group’s µMap technology, the project aims to investigate how SARS-CoV-2 might attach to, enter, and act within cells.
Outside of this collaboration, the Ploss Lab has received funding from Princeton University for several other projects related to COVID-19. Among them are efforts to screen FDA-approved compounds against SARS-CoV-2, explore a potential vaccine strategy, and develop a strain of mice permissive to infection by SARS-CoV-2 that could serve as a model for future preclinical drug testing.
Saori Suzuki (left) and Tomokazu Tamura (right) prepare SARS-CoV-2 pseudoparticles, as highlighted in the Princeton University press release.
On Monday March 16th, our first MD/PhD student, Ila Nimgaonkar, defended her PhD thesis titled, “Molecular Mechanisms Of The Hepatitis E Virus Life Cycle And Host Range.” Under rather ironic circumstances, the coronavirus pandemic forced Ila onto a virtual platform to present her years-long research on the molecular mechanisms of yet another RNA virus. But despite the disruptions, dozens of Ila’s lab mates, friends and family tuned in to watch her presentation from across New Jersey and beyond. Ila, we admire your stoicism and grace during a week of constant changes, and we look forward to a time we can (finally) celebrate your success in person!
Defending under social distance: Ila took the pandemic in stride by live-streaming her thesis presentation.
While working in the Ploss Lab, Ila was a prolific researcher, contributing to many important discoveries about hepatitis E virus and presenting her findings at conferences worldwide. In addition to her own research, she authored two reviews about HEV, mentored many people in the lab, and has been pivotal in shaping Ploss Lab culture over the years. We owe countless lab events, farewell parties, trivia games, photos, and website posts to Ila!
On December 5th, Alex presented a lecture titled “Hitting viruses where it hurts:New insights in replicative mechanisms of hepatitis B and C viruses” in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
Alex was really impressed with the fantastic infrastructure and set of the Co-HEP Center. Thank you very much to Jens Bukh, Troels Scheels and colleagues for their hospitality.
We are excited to welcome Connor Chain, a rotation student in Molecular Biology, to the Ploss Lab! Connor holds a B.S. in Biology from Northeastern University and an M.Sc. from Kings College London, and he has a broad research background including projects related to therapies against chronic lung fibrosis, studying repressors in endogenous retroviral elements, and T-cell receptor sequencing. In the Ploss lab, Connor will be studying the role of helper viruses in hepatitis D virus replication and infectivity. He is particularly interested in the chimeric mouse models developed in the Ploss lab that are susceptible to human infections. Welcome to the lab Connor!
On December 1st, we welcomed our newest post-doc to the lab; Dr. Saori Suzuki! Saori joins the Ploss Lab with an extensive background in virology: she completed her dissertation work at Kyoto University (Japan) on the development of vaccines against hepatitis C virus, followed by postdoctoral positions at Shiga University of Medical Science (Japan) and University of Pennsylvania researching influenza and respiratory viruses. Here in the Ploss Lab, she will be investigating restriction factors in hepatitis C virus replication. Saori came to the United States recently, and she is excited to experience and learn more about American culture. We are thrilled to have you in the lab Saori, and to celebrate many American holidays together!
On November 29th, we said goodbye to Javier Cabellero Gómez, a visiting student from the University of Cordoba in Spain who was working on hepatitis E virus host tropism-related projects for three months. It was a pleasure to have Javi in the lab, who came with a lot of experience working on HEV, and who was extremely enthusiastic about all his projects. Javi impressed everyone with how quickly he picked up cell culture and biochemical techniques and with the great progress he made in three short months. We will miss you a lot Javi, and we hope to visit you soon in beautiful Southern Spain!