It's Mutual: Viruses and Immune System Adaptations with Nils G. Walter


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Sep 30 2020 62 mins   4

Returning guest Nils G. Walter examines RNA molecules from every possible angle, literally and metaphorically. His lab at the University of Michigan brings multidisciplinary minds together to discover what RNA research may offer the medical community.

Listeners are in for expert assessments on

  • Why multiple molecular players lead to such divergence in viral structure and functions;
  • How viral spread is simply evolution on a molecular level, retaining mutations that lead to success; and
  • What's an "interactome" and what does this concept have to do with the movie Avatar.

Nils G. Walter is a professor of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry at the University of Michigan. Early in his career he mentored with Nobel Laureate Manfred Eigen, who developed the quasispecies theory, a way to understand how molecules in the precellular RNA world evolved into more complex life forms. This experience underpins much of his present work as well as how he answers Richard's questions.

For example, when Richard asks about the viral-like qualities of ribosomes and plasmids, Dr. Walter describes his work with the ARC protein, which his lab is studying. He describes its action sequence and adds that it is highly related to retroviral packaging proteins and carries information in our neurons. ARC, he says, has a way to communicate information between cells and reprogram the recipient cell just like a virus does. In other words, the relatedness of these particles is evident.

Relatedness, in fact, is the name of the game. He comments that his lifetime of research reveals all of biology as connected—and this is why he is such a fan of Avatar. A dominate reason for this connection is this exchange of genetic material endemic to viruses, bacteria, and other infectious diseases and basic biological processes. For example, as extracellular vesicles transfer genetic information from one to another, so are there similar means of communication between compounds and molecules as well as environmental impacts (think epigenetics) that all come together to change genotypes.

He shows this in concrete ways as he answers questions about viral agency or cellular "choice" by describing how many factors and interactions lead to different results. Rather than "choice," he asserts that the molecular environment changes the balance systems to go in new directions.

For more about his work, see his lab's web page: sites.lsa.umich.edu/walter-lab.

Available on Apple Podcasts: apple.co/2Os0myK