Kenneth Stedman and Geoffrey Diemer win BioMed Central’s 7th Annual Research Award

Posted by Biome on 27th May 2013 - 3 Comments


Kenneth Stedman and Geoffrey Diemer of Portland State University, USA are winners of BioMed Central’s 7th Annual Research Award, which recognises excellence in scientific research made freely available through open access publishing. The award was announced at the Experimental Biology FASEB conference on 21 April 2013 in Boston, in recognition of their research article ‘A novel virus genome discovered in an extreme environment suggests recombination between unrelated groups of RNA and DNA viruses’, which was published in Biology Direct.

“We’re extremely honoured by this award considering all of the wonderful research that is being published at BioMed Central,” said Stedman.

Current dogma states that viruses fall into three groups; RNA viruses, DNA viruses and retroviruses (those that need to be reverse transcribed from RNA into DNA). It is well-established that within each of these groups genetic material can be exchanged between different viruses. In their article however, Stedman and Diemer reveal for the first time that RNA and DNA viruses can also recombine with each other.

 

           “I have long been fascinated by the simple yet evolutionarily sophisticated nature of viruses”
Geoffrey Diemer, Portland State University

 

Analysing virus samples isolated from the acidic hot lake, Boiling Springs Lake, USA led to their discovery of a novel viral genome likely to have resulted from a DNA-RNA recombination event between two unrelated viruses. The DNA virus identified was found to encode a major capsid protein of a kind found only in RNA viruses. This unexpected finding received much praise from the Research Award judges, however the means by which it was uncovered was also of note.

“This discovery came from employing a metagenomic approach and it is hard to see how prior approaches could have made the same discovery,” said Laurence Hurst, Professor of Evolutionary Genetics at the University of Bath, UK and one of this year’s judging panel of expert scientists and clinicians. “The paper opens up new avenues in viral research, not least because the mechanism by which the interviral RNA-DNA recombination occurs has yet to be discovered,” remarked Hurst.

 

         “This work highlights the new route to discovery in virology – the metagenomic path”
Eugene Koonin, co-Editor-in-Chief, Biology Direct

 

Fellow judge Frank Cox, Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK similarly echoed the importance of this study. “This is a significant contribution to our understanding of viruses and has implications well outside the immediate finding”. These views were shared by experts in the field who peer reviewed the manuscript and whose attributed reports are freely accessible with the published article online due to the pioneering model of open peer review exercised by Biology Direct.

“This is a truly exciting paper that reports the discovery of a completely unexpected entity,” wrote reviewer Eugene Koonin, Senior Investigator at the National Center for Biotechnology Information, Bethesda, USA. “To my knowledge, such a chimera between RNA and DNA viruses […] has never been observed before.” Reviewer Arcady Mushegian, Professor of Microbiology at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, USA, wrote “This is a fascinating discovery of a novel virus group, suggesting the ancient act of exchange of genetic material between RNA and DNA virus genomes.”

Since publication of the award-winning article, several other groups have also detected the presence of viral genomes formed through interviral RNA-DNA recombination. Stedman is hopeful that “having been selected for such an award will encourage other researchers to venture into this fascinating new territory as well.” You can read more from Stedman about the article in Biome’s Author Q&A here.

BioMed Central’s 7th Annual Research Award is sponsored by antibodies-online.com.

 

More about the author(s)

Kenneth Stedman, Associate Professor of Biology, Portland State University, USA.

Kenneth Stedman is Associate Professor of Biology at Portland State University’s Center for Life in Extreme Environments. Stedman began his scientific career with a degree in Chemical Engineering from Stanford University, USA, after which he moved to Switzerland to work in biotechnology. Stedman returned to the USA to obtain his PhD in Molecular and Cell Biology at University of California, Berkeley under the supervision of Sydney Kustu, where he worked on the regulation of bacterial transcription. Obtaining a Marie-Curie postdoctoral fellowship, he went on to work with Wolfram Zillig, a pioneer of archaeal transcription and archaeal viruses, at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, Germany. It was here that Stedman developed his love of ‘extreme viruses’. He is currently co-Chair of the NASA virus focus group.

Geoffrey Diemer, Associate Professor of Biology, Portland State University, USA.

Geoffrey Diemer is a doctoral candidate at Portland State University in Oregon, USA, in the laboratory of Kenneth Stedman. Diemer obtained a Master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences in 2001 at KU Leuven in Belgium. Working alongside Drs Zeger Debyser and Erik De Clercq, he developed lentiviral vector technology and gene therapy strategies targeting HIV. After several fruitful years thereafter in the biopharmaceutical industry, where he worked on the development of biological products targeting inflammation and cancer, he began his current PhD research in evolutionary virology and astrobiology at the PSU Center for Life in Extreme Environments.