The Alvarez lab is interested in studying host-pathogen interactions of RNA viruses, which can significantly impact public health through the spread of dengue and chikungunya, two re-emerging viruses transmitted by mosquitoes. On the one hand, Alvarez’s team combines computational chemistry approaches and genetic tools to: 1) manipulate viral genomes with the aim of uncovering new targets for the design of antiviral strategies, and 2) dissect the role of virus envelope glycoproteins in establishing and propagating infection. On the other hand, the team investigates RNA signals in the viral genomes that assure replication in mosquito and mammalian hosts. These studies contribute to understanding the molecular mechanisms of virus adaptation and identifying novel attenuation markers.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Alvarez’s lab is collaborating with the lab of Ariel Bazzini, Ph.D., to combine an expertise in gene regulation, developmental biology, and microbiology to investigate molecular mechanisms behind dengue infection. Dengue is the most common vector-borne viral disease in the world and there are no effective forms of intervention. Additionally, dengue infection causes dramatic changes in the gene expression of the host, yet the mechanisms underlying these changes are unknown. It is hypothesized that changes in host gene expression could create a favorable environment for viral replication in both animal hosts, humans and mosquitoes. Together, Bazzini and Alvarez will investigate whether dengue infection affects the abundance and stability of two kinds of RNA in the cell: tRNA and mRNA. They will also probe whether tRNA affects the infection process. The team will characterize the features in the genome from the dengue virus that influence the success of infection in mosquitoes and humans. This work could spur development of effective vaccines or therapies to treat dengue.