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ERC funded project - Elucidating the role of RNA modifications on negative strand influenza A RNAs during the viral replication cycle

School of Medicine, Dentistry & Biomedical Sciences

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Dr David Courtney , Dr Aurelie Mousnier , Prof J Bengoechea No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)
Belfast United Kingdom Cell Biology Genetic Engineering Immunology Microbiology Molecular Biology Virology

About the Project

This exciting ERC funded project in the Courtney Lab focuses on virus-host interactions and RNA modifications (epitranscriptomics) to uncover novel pathways hijacked by influenza A viruses (IAVs) that allow viral RNAs to avoid detection by innate immune sensors, be trafficked from the nuclear replication centres to the cellular membrane and be efficiently packaged into virions.

We are looking for an enthusiastic student who has a real interest in molecular virology to work on this potentially ground-breaking work and really delve into the many roles RNA modifications may play in the regulation of influenza negative strand viral RNAs (vRNAs). We think that vRNA modifications will have quite distinctive roles from those on mRNAs, due to their involvement in distinct processes. Therefore, the study of vRNA epitranscriptomics will answer important questions most likely entirely unique to IAV. Elucidating these novel roles will be a significant advancement in our understanding of the IAV replication cycle.

Initially, common mRNA modifications will be mapped on IAV vRNAs in infected eukaryotic cells. We will use this mapping data to rescue and characterise hypo-modified viral mutants. We will evaluate viral fitness before determining whether characteristics such as trafficking or packaging are altered upon loss of modifications. Visualisation of vRNAs in vitro will allow us to ascertain if hypo-modified vRNAs accumulate at cell structures, while packaging efficiency will be evaluated through ultracentrifuge purification of IAV virions. RNA affinity purification will then be performed to identify RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) that associate with specific modified regions, and validated by CLIP-seq. We will also seek to identify RBPs blocked from binding vRNAs by the presence of RNA modifications, including innate immune sensors. We will determine the phenotypic effect these validated candidate RBPs have on IAV pathogenesis, and the mechanisms behind these effects, using standard molecular methods.

This project would be ideal for a student with at least a BSc Upper Second in Biological or Life Sciences (especially virology, biochemistry, biomedical or bioengineering).

Please apply at

Feel free to contact Dr Courtney at [Email Address Removed] if you have any questions regarding this project.

Funding Notes

This project is funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant 2020 (949506, PTFLU).


Please visit the QUB website for further information about the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine
Applications are made via our Direct Applications Portal
When applying, please choose 'MEDICINE' as your subject area/School.
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