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Professor Paul Turner specializes in the evolution of viruses. He shares how researchers conceive of and approach viruses today, including

  • Understanding viruses as possible “took kits” for other organisms alongside their own evolution toward opportunity;
  • The goals of his own lab, such as studying viruses as ideal forms in understanding evolutionary processes; and
  • Phages (viruses that target bacteria) and their potential to replace antibiotics to treat bacterial infection.

Paul Turner is the Rachel Carson Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University. In this conversation, he covers many key topics about viruses and virus RNA and how bacteria and viruses may coevolve.

He explains that there are numerous ways bacteria have taken genes and functions from viruses and incorporated them into the bacteria to enable a new opportunity for bacterial life to continue. Further, our human genomes are full of what are recognizably virus genes, or “ghosts of infections past,” and we’re still not clear how these genes may function. 

He also covers the tremendous potential for phages to fight infection as antibiotics lose their effectiveness. He talks about some of the roadblocks to this forward movement and how his lab is approaching this research as well as using viruses to better understand evolution as a process and examine pathogenic virus ecology. 

Along the way he explains multiple current theories on viruses, virus RNA, and even touches on the exciting work in ocean genomics, a field that is able to look even closer at metagenomics. He also talks about the technology available, how now that scientists have more single-cell tools to study and examine viruses, he’s more optimistic that we can access the individual cell level to see variation in how certain cells interact with “free riders” like viruses

For more, see his page at Yale University, https://medicine.yale.edu/profile/paul_turner/, and the Turner Lab page, https://turnerlab.yale.edu/.

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