Meet the Young Microbiologist of the Year Finalists: Michaela J Conley

Posted on August 20, 2019   by Microbiology Society

The Sir Howard Dalton Young Microbiologist of the Year Prize is awarded by the Society each year. The prize recognises and rewards excellence in science communication by a Microbiology Society member who is a postgraduate student or postdoctoral researcher, having gained their PhD in the last two years. Two finalists are shortlisted from each of the Society’s Divisions based on a presentation given at the Microbiology Society Annual Conference or Irish Division meetings. The nine young scientists on this shortlist will give a 15-minute presentation at the Microbiology Society’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 12 September. In the run up to the AGM, we will be getting to know the finalists.

Virology Division finalist: Dr Michaela J Conley

© Michaela Conley

Current position: Research Associate at the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research

Title of talk: Assembly of a portal-like structure in feline calicivirus following receptor engagement 

Research interests: Viruses are amazing molecular machines that hijack host cells for their own replication. I am particularly fascinated by how RNA viruses interact with their cellular receptors, trigger uptake into the cell and subsequently deliver their genome into the cytoplasm (for example, via endosomal escape for viruses such as the Caliciviridae).

Theme of talk: Viruses can infect all forms of life on earth, but to do so they must enter their host cells. Understanding this step is critical, not least for developing new anti-viral drugs. The cell entry mechanism of norovirus, which causes winter-vomiting disease, was poorly understood. To address this, we studied a related feline virus and discovered that it forms a portal or tube-shaped structure that penetrates the cell's defensive barrier, injecting the viral genome into the cell and initiating a new infection. This novel structure could provide a potential target for drugs against winter-vomiting disease and similar illnesses.

If I wasn't a microbiologist, I would be... a zoologist, due to my passion for both science and animals. Although scientific research would be limited, day-to-day contact looking after animals and their well-being would be very rewarding. I did, however, consider studying undergraduate philosophy, which I am happily still able to pursue via the philosophy of science.

Michaela's talk will take place at the Microbiology Society AGM on 12 September at the Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London. Stay tuned for more finalist profiles in the coming weeks. Already published profiles can be found below: 
Christine Jordan, Irish Division Finalist
Davis Laundon, Eukaryotic Division Finalist