Published: 31 August 2020, 11:27 | By: Ute Schönfelder
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic impressively demonstrates how important it is to understand and be able to treat viral infections. The novel coronavirus has been keeping the world in suspense for months, because there is currently no way to treat or prevent infections. The availability of a vaccine and its effectiveness also depend on how precisely we know how viruses interact with the cells of the human organism. Over the next four years, young researchers will investigate these general processes in an ‘International Training Network’ coordinated by Friedrich Schiller University Jena. The European Union has awarded nearly four million euros to the ‘VIROINF’ programme, in which 15 doctoral candidates from eight European countries will be trained.
‘VIROINF investigates the interactions between viruses and their host organisms,’ explains Prof. Dr Manja Marz from Friedrich Schiller University Jena. ‘We want to gain a better understanding of the ecology and evolution of viruses and thus be able to better treat and control viral diseases,’ says the bioinformatician and head of the network. The researchers investigate not only the viruses that occur in humans, but also those that infect birds, mice, pigs, insects, and even microorganisms. What is special about ‘VIROINF’ is that virologists and bioinformaticians partner up and collaborate on individual research questions, with each topic being investigated by an interdisciplinary team. Prof. Marz’s group, for example, will investigate RNA secondary structures in influenza viruses in order to find out what influence they have on the recombination of viruses.
In addition to Friedrich Schiller University Jena, ‘VIROINF’ network members include research institutions from Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Great Britain, Austria, and Israel. Furthermore, twelve partner organizations from research and industry are involved in the scientific supervision of the young researchers. Being at the centre of the network, Jena is the place where joint workshops and meetings are organized, the various committees are coordinated and a website is maintained, which will be available at www.viroinfo.eu from October.
For further information on virus bioinformatics, please refer to www.evbc.uni-jena.de.