Welcome to the Immunoviromics Lab at the University of California at Merced led by Dr. Juris Grasis.
This website is currently under construction, but here’s a start.
The microbiome is very important in biology and in health. The microbiome is the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that live within us, affecting our metabolism and immune system, among many other things.
However, the microbiome exists not only within us, but all around us, in animals, in plants, in soils, and in water. The numbers of microorganisms in the microbiome are staggering, and they affect every aspect of life.
Also staggering, and often not talked about, are the number of viruses that exist within us, in animals, in plants, in soils, and in water. Often, there are 10 times more viruses than there are bacteria swirling about us.
But viruses are parasites. They make us sick, right? If there are that many viruses around us, why aren’t we sick all of the time? One answer is because we have amazing immune systems. The other answer is that most viruses don’t infect us. In fact, the overwhelming majority of viruses that exist on this planet only infect bacteria.
Although most viruses may not infect us, viruses have a great effect on us, and all life on this planet, through their ability to act as parasites and carry genes from one place to another.
Viral communities and their genomes are called viromes. The study of viromes is viromics (viral metagenomics). Our lab investigates these viromes, in animals, in plants, in soils, and in water. We are interested in how these viromes affect immune systems and vice versa. Our lab is at the interface of viromes and immune systems. This is why we call our lab the Immunoviromics Lab, we investigate virome interactions with immune systems.
Viruses and the Immune System
We still do get sick from viruses, despite our amazing immune system. Why? There are certainly some viruses that can kill us and others that can cause us temporary misery. How come our amazing immune system doesn’t protect us from all viruses? The answer here is to a question as old as time, that viruses and immune systems evolve together, competing against each other, in an eternal struggle.
Viruses that cause us temporary misery are eventually defeated by our immune system. The defeated viruses can mutate and evolve to cause misery again. Immune systems mutate and evolve in kind. Similarly, there are viruses that can evade our immune system and kill us, yet some of us still do survive, and our immune systems mutate and evolve to better fight off the killer virus in the next encounter. The fight is eternal, but winnable.
In fact, we are winning. We are giving our immune system a “head-start” by using vaccines. Vaccinations prime our immune system to be ready when they encounter viruses. And vaccines have enabled us to live many years longer than in the past.
But what about when there are no vaccines, such as for plants and animals? What about organisms that live without our amazing immune system and without our medical science? How do creatures survive on a planet with many viruses?
Creatures survive, often for hundreds, even thousands of years. How do these organisms survive for so long? How do they survive the evolution of viruses with a simpler immune system?
This is an area of research in our lab, how primitive animals, even animals that can be considered immortal, survive in a world of viruses. We investigate this in a simple animal, with a basic immune system, the Hydra, and determine how this animal survives viral infection.
What we do
How does this research come together? How do viromes and immune systems interact to better our lives and make us healthier?
By exploring the world of viromes and the immune systems interacting with them, we can learn better methods to prime our immune systems and make them more resistant to viral infections. This information will help us find and develop antiviral compounds, and possibly new vaccines.
Similarly, we can analyze the viromes that live within us, in other animals, in plants, in soils, and in water to find new compounds to not only fight against viral infection, but to help regulate the microbiome. Finding antimicrobial compounds and viruses that infect bacteria can help us live better, healthier lives, and can also help with the health of farm animals, crop yield, and water quality.
So, come visit our lab (location link – under construction). Found out more about what we work on (research link – under construction). Find out about the amazing people doing this research (people link – under construction). Read more about our research (publications link – under construction). Consider working with our lab (collaborations link – under construction). Read about what we’re reading (lab reading list link – under constuction). Find out how we communicate our research to the world (outreach link – under construction). Read our random immunoviromic musings (blog – is live!). And finally, communicate with us (contact us – is live!). We’ll be happy to hear from you!