By Jess Dankenbring, '17
Viruses are the tiniest of microbes; millions of viruses can fit on the head of a pin. So how do we see them? Through powerful microscopes like the transmission electron microscope, which can magnify 120,000x, unlike most regular light microscopes that can only handle 2,000x magnification. “It’s this big, expensive microscope that shoots a beam of electrons to view objects of extremely small sizes,” said biology major Jesse Woon, ’16.
When Woon wanted to try out UR’s transmission electron microscope, he knew just who to ask: biology professor Eugene Wu. “I’d heard he does work with the microscope that I wanted to use,” Woon said. “When he let me join his lab I was brought onto his research project and, in doing so, I was able to use that microscope.”
For the project, Woon worked with the pink eye virus and focused on a cell receptor called CD46. He wanted to see whether a viral infection could occur through the receptor he studied, since it can enter the cell a different way.
The challenge was that the CD46 receptor is extremely small so it may not be clearly visible when bound to the virus. Woon had to use the microscope in order to accurately view the receptor.
“I grew the virus in cells, purified it with an ultracentrifuge and harvested it at a concentration of about 1.3 trillion particles per milliliter. I was then able to take the virus and look at the individual particles under a transmission electron microscope,” Woon said.
Woon knew that if he and the other members of Wu’s lab could figure out the structure of the CD46 receptor, and whether or not it makes an oligomer, then in theory they could help design a drug that would reduce or eliminate a viral pink eye infection.
“This research is valuable because if we are able to prove that these receptors do form oligomers that increase the rates of infection, it could potentially lead to new ways to stop the infection, or similar discoveries with other receptors,” Woon said.
The experience also has been valuable to his biology major and comfort in the lab.
“U of R is a great place to do research,” Woon said. “Friends at other schools have told me that when they get accepted to a lab, usually for the first year all they do is clean dishes and do miscellaneous lab work and no actual science.”
“Dr. Wu taught me just about everything I know on this subject and he is really the one who develops all the ideas for what we will be testing. Having your professor work with you and teach you all you need to know really makes the research fun and manageable.”
His research experience is also helping him decide where he sees himself in the future. “The research that I have done has really shown me a lot about what it is like to work in a lab and do research for a career,” Woon said. “This has made me consider the possibility of working in a research lab after graduation. It has also allowed me to become adept in lab techniques that have been very useful in some of my classes.”