- Banting Fellow
Our ‘Laboratory for RNA-Based Lifeforms’ is a research collective focused on understanding the structure and function of genes through the prism or RNA. Interdisciplinary by design, we complement computational and molecular innovation in the pursuit of fundamental ideas.
The sequence biodiversity of Earth’s RNA virome is enormous and unexplored, at most 0.1% of RNA viruses have been described. We create the computational means for ultra-efficient virus discovery by combining modern informatics and massive (petabyte-scale) data analyses. Together, we are building the digital infrastructure to enable the global surveillance of pathogens of pandemic potential.
Through illuminating the depths of the “Dark Virome”, we are expanding the known diversity of RNA viruses and virus-like elements, including those thought to be modern remnants of Earth’s most primordial lifeforms. Specifically, we study RNA enzymes, or ribozymes, and structural RNA elements of unknown function. Analogous to the “DNA genetic code” for protein-coding genes, we are learning to read the structural “RNA genetic code” which first evolved in the early RNA World.
The ribosome, itself a catalytic RNA molecule decorated with protein, is central to life as we have come to understand it. Yet the natural and pathogenic (cancer) population genetic variation of ribosomal RNA is poorly understood. We are cataloguing the genetic and epigenetic heterogeneity of ribosomal RNA and delineating its impact on physionormal and diseased translation.