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Investigators and Program Directors

David Wentworth

David E. Wentworth

Research Scientist, Wadsworth Center,
Microbial Genetics

Assistant Professor, School of Public Health,
Biomedical Sciences

Related Sites:

Molecular Genetics
Immunology and Infectious Diseases
Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Postdoctoral training, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center



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Research Interests:

Influenza and Corona Viruses: Emerging Disease Threats

The long-term goal of our research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of interspecies transmission and pathogenesis of viruses and to use this information to create vaccines to combat these pathogens. My laboratory studies the molecular biology of Influenza and Corona viruses in order to understand the adaptation of a virus to a new host, to identify molecular determinants critical to pathogenesis, and to create vaccines to protect humans and animals. Influenza A viruses and coronaviruses cause a wide range of disease in humans and many other animal species. Furthermore, both viruses cross species barriers in the natural setting and this may lead to pandemics and/or increased disease in the new host (e.g., 2009-H1N1 influenza A virus).

Influenza Virus:

There are three types of influenza viruses, Type A, B, and C. All three types infect humans; however, type A is of the most concern and it infects many other animal species. The influenza A genome is made up of eight different strands of negative sense RNA that code for ten-eleven proteins. Antigenic drift variants of classical human Influenza A viruses (e.g., H3N2 and H1N1) re-emerge annually and infect ~500 million people during a moderate year. Periodically new antigenically distinct viruses emerge and these antigenic shift variants cause pandemics that rapidly kill millions of people. Interspecies transmission is critical to the evolution and pathogenesis of antigenic shift viruses with pandemic potential. Emergence of novel H5N1 and H7N7 subtypes of influenza A in people of Asia and the Netherlands illustrate that the potential for the emergence of a new pandemic strain of human influenza is very high. Our laboratory uses reverse genetics procedures to genetically engineer Influenza A viruses in order to study mutations associated with viral adaptation to new host species, and to create live attenuated influenza virus vaccine candidates. In addition, we have developed high-throughput techniques for influenza A virus genomic amplification and genetic evaluation to determine the pandemic potential and accelerate vaccine development for viruses with pandemic potential.


Coronaviruses are diverse enveloped, positive-stranded RNA (~30kb) viruses that infect humans, other mammals and avian species. Large glycoproteins called"spike" protrude from the virus surface and are responsible for binding to the host cell receptor. We study the interaction of the coronavirus spike with the host cell receptor because this is a major determinant in species specificity and pathogenesis. The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome that lead to the discovery that a novel coronavirus called SARS-CoV emerged in Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China in November 2002. SARS-CoV spread to 30 other countries and caused 8,098 reported cases, which resulted in 774 fatalities. Our current coronavirus research focuses on developing transgenic mice, and other small animal models to study pathogenesis, antivirals, and vaccines. We are also developing and using reverse genetic approaches to genetically engineer coronaviruses in order to investigate viral adaptation after emergence in a new host, spike-receptor interactions, and cis-acting RNA elements important in replication and/or pathogenesis.

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