Ph.D. student from Weitz lab continuing his research in Germany
Jun 23, 2015 | Atlanta, GA
Bradford Taylor works in a multidisciplinary frontier of natural science called the 'physics of living systems.'
A fifth-year Ph.D. student in physics, Taylor is focusing his thesis research on leveraging nonlinear models of complex biological systems to understand a form of hyper-parasitism in which viruses can exploit other viruses. There is only one place in the world where Taylor can carry out the next phase of his research, and thanks to the Nerem International Travel Award, that’s exactly where he’s going.
Taylor, who works in the group of Joshua Weitz, associate professor in the School of Biology and faculty member of the Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience, will spend two weeks in Germany, working in the lab of Matthias Fischer at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. That’s where he’ll continue work on his thesis, researching the biophysical dynamics of virophage (a term used to describe viruses that are parasites of giant viruses, which themselves are parasites of cells).
Taylor’s previous research demonstrated the potential for virophage presence to reduce viral adundance while increasing host abundance. In other words, the host and virophage mutually benefit, because their interaction reduces the production of the virus. This three-way relationship between virophage, the virus it parasitizes, and the host cell may best be analogized by an ancient proverb, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
It’s a relationship that has become very familiar to Taylor, whose research on the population dynamics of virophage, viruses and host cells was published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology in 2013, a paper entitled, “The virus of my virus is my friend: ecological effects of virophage with alternative modes of coinfection.”
Virophage must coinfect a host that is infected with a distinct, giant virus in order to propagate.
“Bradford's thesis work on viruses that interfere with and exploit other viruses will help shed light on biophysical mechanisms underlying coinfection and conflict in the microbial world,” says Weitz, senior author of the paper in the Journal of Theoretical Biology.
Moving forward, Taylor plans to investigate the biophysical mechanism of coinfection and its effect on population dynamics for the “Mavirus” virophage and the giant “Cafeteria roenbergensis” virus. Current discussion centers on two alternative hypotheses for entry: a paired entry mode (PEM) where virophage adhere to the virus externally, before entering the host; and an independent entry mode (IEM) in which virophage enter the host and lay dormant until coinfection proceeds with the arrival of the virus.
“Not much is known regarding the mechanics of coinfection,” according to Taylor. That’s why he’s going back to Germany. He visited Fischer, one of the world’s few experts in virophage (first discovered in 2008), in spring 2014, “in order to determine if IEM occurs in this system as theorized,” Taylor says.
With his next visit (mid-July), supported by the Nerem Award, Taylor intends to, “experimentally determine the mechanics and dynamics of the IEM virophage coinfection strategy. Our results will be useful for future models that involve virophage and their role within ecological communities.”
Following on this visit, Mr. Taylor will integrate his research findings to complete his thesis, with eyes on the horizon for postdoctoral opportunities following his graduation next year.
Taylor is the 11th recipient of the Nerem International Travel Award, a program that began in 2005, and has received generous support from donors like Coe Bloomberg (ME, Class of 1966) and G.B. Espy (ME, Class of 1957) through the years, helping to increase the visibility of the Petit Institute around the planet, sending trainees from Georgia Tech to some of the world’s top research universities.
The program started when friends and colleagues of Bob Nerem, founding director of the Petit Institute, thought it would be a good idea to honor his contributions to bioengineering and his commitment to the Petit Institute, as well as his love for travel. So they established an annual award of up to $3,000 to support post-docs and graduate students traveling outside the U.S. for research.
Nerem loved the idea, but didn’t want the prize to merely send a student to a conference. Instead, it wound up being all about research abroad, “which I think is excellent,” says Nerem, “because our research is part of a global community.”
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