Viral determinants of enhanced Zika virus replication in Aedes aegypti mosquito cells that underpin viral emergence

Posted on January 18, 2021   by Boglarka Vamos and Kevin Maringer

Each year, the Microbiology Society awards a number of grants that enable undergraduates to work on microbiological research projects during the summer vacation and provide early- and mid-career scientists the opportunity to gain supervision experience. Over the next few months, we’ll be posting a series of blogs from members who were awarded Harry Smith Vacation Studentships in 2020. This week is lecturer Dr Kevin Maringer, Pirbright Institute and undergraduate student Boglarka Vamos, University of Surrey. 

From the student: Boglarka Vamos

he main aim of this project was to introduce me to basic bioinformatics skills as a substitution for laboratory-based virus work due to COVID-19. We wanted these bioinformatics skills to include an appreciation of proteomics and interactomics, but also to cover reference genomes, sequence formats and alignments. This would involve handling large datasets to find information most relevant to how Zika virus (ZIKV) may modulate mosquitoes. This would then lead into establishing an understanding of how sequence differences may impact functional and structural changes at the protein level.

Altogether I explored over fifty residues of potential interest within NS1, NS3 and NS4A and identified 18 residues that showed the greatest correlation with mosquito transmission or Aedes aegypti specifically. 

Working on this project successfully shifted my views on bioinformatics. Whilst I had been aware of its increasing importance since starting university, and had a basic understanding of it, I was never personally drawn to this area and found it quite daunting. During my project I was not only able to develop my skills in bioinformatics but as I became more familiar with working with large datasets and analysis tools, I was also able to find my own way to present the results from it.

Overall, this project enabled me to be more confident in communicating my ideas and findings to others, both on an individual one-to-one basis and to the wider lab group. Confidence has always been an area that I struggle in, but I feel that taking part in this studentship has meant that I will be entering my third year of undergraduate study in a much better position, both personally and professionally, than I was beforehand. 

© Dr Kevin Maringer

From the supervisor: Dr Kevin Maringer

I have supervised undergraduate and postgraduate students in the past, however I found adapting my supervision style to a remote online environment challenging. I have learnt a lot about building a cohesive research group when we are only able to come together virtually, and have also learnt a lot about how to best support students who are missing out on the team atmosphere of a lab environment. I can see myself developing similar computer-based data-driven projects again in the future to explore new areas of research. This experience has really helped consolidate how I design the projects, supervision and targets to guide the student through these sorts of projects in a structured way. 

Applications for our 2021 scheme are now open and will close on 17 February 2021. Find out more and apply on our website here. For any questions, please contact [email protected]