UConn student researching polio viruses

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Presley Bird has begun research into polio viruses. Photo courtesy of Sean Flynn of UConn Photo/UConn Today

University of Connecticut undergraduate student Presley Bird is currently working with molecular and cellular biology professor Simon White to further understand the replication process and mechanics of the Picornaviridae viruses.

Picornaviridae causes several serious diseases including Polio, the common cold and hand-foot and mouth disease.

Research into the Picornaviridae family can help understand paralysis, inducing viruses such as Acute Flaccid Myelitis, White said. For Bird, a second-semester molecular and cellular biology major, the experience is a first-hand look into the world of human virology.

“I really enjoy getting to learn skills that directly apply to my future career. [In the lab] we use E. Coli to grow the polio proteins,” Bird said. “I commonly use a PCR machine, centrifuge, chromatography machines, the nanodrop machine and SDS gels.”

Bird was offered a research position by White after taking the new MCB course Virus Hunters last fall, Bird said. White currently teaches Virology and Virus Hunters with professor and associate department head Carolyn Teschke.

“Dr. White is the head of the lab,” Bird said. “I believe he has around 10 people working in the lab, mostly graduate students. Everyone in the lab is so kind and helpful, I feel like I can truly learn to the best of my ability and am encouraged to do so.”

Recently, Bird has been manipulating Poliovirus proteins in order to control the bonding of macromolecules, which is what the virus is made of and what it uses to replicate.

“Currently I’m working on a project where I add urea to 2C protein in order to determine if we can control the oligomeric state of the protein,” Bird said. “The lab as a whole works with 2CPV (a specific polio protein) and the Picornaviridae family of viruses.”

In the future, Bird said she plans to earn her Ph.D. and conduct research on human diseases through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I want to be a research scientist in the future, so I wanted to do research to get a feel for the job,” Bird said. “Through my experience, I have confirmed that working in a lab is something that I genuinely enjoy doing and has made me more confident in my plans for the future.”


Rachel Grella is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.grella@uconn.edu.

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