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In this informative podcast, Luis P. Villarreal, Professor Emeritus, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, School of Biological Sciences, University of California, Irvine, provides an overview of his thoughts on biological changes, virus evolution, viral gene therapy, and more.

Podcast Points:

  • Why is coronavirus more concerning than the standard flu?
  • An overview on the origin of the coronavirus
  • How do species continue to thrive while existing with persistent lifelong infections?

As a Founding Director of the Center for Virus Research, Villarreal has long been interested in research related to viruses. Villarreal holds a PhD from the University of California, San Diego, and a BS from California State University at Los Angeles, in Biochemistry.

Dr. Villarreal discusses the current state of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), commonly referred to as simply, coronavirus. He provides specific information on the origin of coronaviruses. As Dr. Villarreal states, most emerging viruses that go on to cause acute epidemics or a pandemic, typically come from a particular species found in the region that has a persistent lifelong infection.

Bats, in particular, harbor a great deal of coronaviruses, as well as other viruses. These viruses are specific to the species and within the host species, they typically show almost no evidence of disease. These viruses are passed from generation to generation in bats, but have almost no effect on bat health; it’s an epigenome of the bat.

The research doctor provides some interesting examples of specific studies of mice. He explains the research that shows how mice, like some other species, benefit from the viruses they carry because the virus can act as a way of ensuring a particular colony’s survival. For example, when mice engage in reproductive contact between colonies, the mice that are not colonized with the virus will die off.

Dr. Villarreal talks about the ways that coronavirus establishes itself in hosts. This coronavirus is particularly difficult to tackle because it is quite successful at transmission, because hosts who carry the virus will often have no signs, or few signs, of any actual infection. He states that this virus presents a complex problem because it, unlike some other viruses, seems to be acting as if it is trying to establish a persistent infection in humans, in a similar manner to how persistent infections become established in animal species.

In this event that is happening now, Dr. Villarreal states that this is an event of communication that has brought technology and science to its knees with the power it has exerted over human biology. Unfortunately, the United States’ delayed reaction, its slow response to the coronavirus, is going to make things worse than they might have been if the virus had been taken seriously at the beginning.

Dr. Villarreal talks about some of the medications that are being repurposed for possible treatment of coronavirus. He discusses the clinical trials that are in progress and the need for immediate action. Continuing, Dr. Villarreal talks about the damage to the immune system that coronavirus creates, but details are thin at this point as to why it is happening. Going further, Dr. Villarreal talks about the virus and how it continues to retain its ability to harm in other species. 

Dr. Villarreal is an SACNAS Distinguished Scientist, and he was recognized with the Distinguished Alumnus Award from California State University, the National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, and was elected as Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology.

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