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Gerissa Fowler

DPhil Student

I completed a BSc (Hons) degree in Biology (2017) and a MSc in Human Genetics (2020) at Memorial University of Newfoundland. During my Masters I studied the link between the gmds gene and its contribution to vascular development and stability. This study was prompted by results from a GWAS (MRI data taken from the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) consortium) that identified single nucleotide polymorphisms within the GMDS gene to associated stroke risk.

I started my DPhil in the Rehwinkel lab in 2020 studying innate immunity response to Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV) and SARS-CoV-2. The cGAS-STING pathway functions to detect cytosolic DNA through cGAS binding, which initiates an innate immune response through STING stimulation, thereby inducing interferon production. This research project will investigate the host-pathogen interaction of VZV, a virus that has been poorly studied in this regard, and the mechanisms it puts into place to prevent host immune system responses. The aim is to identify the VZV proteins that act as cGAS antagonists to block innate immune signalling in host cells. Recent work has uncovered ORF9 as a viral cGAS antagonist, with its specific molecular interaction with cGAS is a point of current investigation. The project will utilize human cell lines to perform techniques such as western blotting, qPCR and plasmid mutagenesis to distinguish cellular interactions between VZV and host nucleic acid sensors.