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Exploring the Origin of a Virus

Monica Borucki, a Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientist, has won a 1-year contract to study how to better determine a virus' origin.

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Monica Borucki, a scientist in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's Biosciences and Biotechnology Division has won a 1-year contract from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The $415,000 contract will fund a research project staffed by a team of six Lab scientists that will study how to better determine the origin of a virus.

Knowing the origin of a virus is important in a public health emergency. If the virus appears to be manmade (laboratory grown) rather than naturally occurring, then this might lead to further investigation and become valuable information for the government in responding to a public health emergency.

A virus develops inside a host cell. At a certain point in the virus' development, it emerges from the host cell, through the outer membrane of that host cell and some of the host's membrane proteins are carried on the virus. Borucki's research will study if a person who is infected with a laboratory grown virus makes an immune response specific to the type of laboratory cells that the virus was grown in.

For example, scientists often cultivate viruses in kidney cells from an African green monkey (a primate whose organs and tissues are used to produce anything from vaccines to viruses). Green monkey kidney cells are widely used for research in immunology and infectious disease. If there were a public health emergency precipitated by a dangerous virus, and if it could be determined that the virus came from a Green Monkey kidney cell, then it's almost certain that the virus was laboratory grown. This might determine additional steps the government might take to mitigate the risk from the virus.

The title of Borucki's proposal is "Detection of Host Response to Cell Culture-Derived Envelope Proteins for Differentiation of Natural versus Cultured Viruses."

If Borucki's team delivers positive results, this could lead to additional funding for further research and development.