The wonderful world of viruses

Senast ändrad: 16 december 2022

Maja Malmberg

Something so small, far beyond our imagination, has recently changed the world as we know it. I believe few of us could ever have pictured this scenario, including myself.

Viruses clearly have the ability to cause devastating diseases that spread efficiently and are difficulty to treat. My research involves several such viruses, but I don’t want to limit our understanding of viruses to these most dangerous/devastating. I want to open your eyes to the vast diversity of viruses that exist, out of which the vast majority still remain to be discovered.

Sometimes I call myself virus detective. I think this summarizes most of my research. Questions appear, like – What is causing this disease? And I, together with my colleagues try to solve it by using the latest technologies that have given us completely new possibilities.

High-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics. In brief, by sequencing the total nucleic acid content of a sample and compare the data with databases containing all to-date described viral sequences we can genetically characterize the viral content of in principle anything. The strength of the method is its ability to find not yet described or unexpected viruses, as well as providing the possibility to study the whole ecosystem of microorganisms.

My research involves improving the methodologies by which we find and characterize new viruses, as well as doing it in a way that is applicable also in low-resource settings. This is for example carried out currently in a project in Uganda addressing tick-borne diseases in cattle. Another project studies the role of neurotropic viruses in congenital disease in piglets. There is still so much to discover about the role of viruses during pregnancy and effects on the early development of the brain. My most recent research project is about using monitoring of viruses (currently mainly SARS-CoV2) in sewage, as a proxy for prevalence in the population.

The overall vision with my research is to contribute to improved health in animals and humans. A first step towards finding a treatment/vaccine is to know what is causing the disease, and that is where my research primarily focuses.

In the future I wish to:

  • Discover and characterize disease causing viruses in animals or humans.
  • Investigate further the pathogenesis, tropism, virus-host interactions and routs of transmission of novel viruses.
  • Increase knowledge about the evolution of viruses.

Questions that fascinate me are for example: What are all viruses that don´t cause disease doing? How come some viruses cause disease in one circumstance but not in the other?

I find it challenging and inspiring to work interdisciplinary and I think it is the way to solve more complex questions. I like translational research, i.e. to apply findings from e.g. research on humans on animals and vice versa. The One Health approach is in line with my view of the world, the close connectedness between animals, humans and the environment. As such, I’m not only interested in the ecosystem of microbes but the interconnectedness of the microenvironments with the bigger surrounding environments.