Desiree A. Benefield, PhD

Position title: Ahlquist Laboratory

Research Title: Structural Studies of Flock House Virus Replication Compartments using Cyro-Electron Tomography

Project Summary: Dr. Benefield used advanced cryo-em techniques to advance our understanding of genome replication by positive-strand RNA viruses. Positive-strand RNA viruses are the largest of the six genetic classes of viruses and include numerous human pathogens such as MERS, Dengue, Chikungunya, hepatitis C, Zika, and many other viruses. All positive-strand RNA viruses carry out their genome RNA replication in novel, infection-specific compartments generated by rearranging host intracellular membranes. Dr. Benefield studied such compartments using an advanced model system, Flock House Virus (FHV) in the Nodaviridae family. She revealed multiple new features of FHV genome replication such as how the genome is organized within each replication compartment and how the compartment size corresponds to its template length. Additionally, she worked on the structural assembly of virally produced proteins that interact with the compartment, which led to a proposed new model for the formation and function of these compartments. This work produced significant insights into positive-strand RNA virus genome replication mechanisms. In addition, Dr. Benefield explored the high resolution structure of the virus protein associated with the replication compartment and further expanded the field’s understanding of these viral events. The results from this work benefited efforts to design new, more robust approaches for virus control.

Dr. Benefield has completed her postdoctoral training is currently an Assistant Scientist and Cryo EM Scientist/Facilitator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.