Britt Glaunsinger says we can learn a lot about ourselves by studying viruses that have evolved to infiltrate our cells.
With limited genetic resources of their own, viruses are notorious for hijacking cellular machinery for their own benefit. Glaunsinger searches for functions of mammalian cells that are exploited by viruses, then investigates how those functions aid the virus, as well as their normal roles in cells. She has focused on uncovering how viruses use or target RNA to manipulate gene expression.
As a postdoctoral researcher, she showed that Kaposi's sarcoma-associated herpesvirus (KSHV), the leading cause of cancer in patients with untreated AIDS, shuts off gene expression in infected cells by chopping up messenger RNA. In her own lab, Glaunsinger has continued exploring the consequences of KSHV's RNA-degrading enzyme SOX. Her studies have shed light on how cells respond to dramatic changes in the abundance of messenger RNA, both in the face of infection and in other situations.
More recently, Glaunsinger has used systems-level technologies to map virus-host interactions on a global scale, revealing new features of gene regulation to be explored.