Dr. Adam Lauring began working at the University of Michigan in 2012. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Internal Medicine (Division of Infectious Diseases), Microbiology and Immunology, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. 75% of his time is devoted to conducting basic and translational research on RNA virus evolution. He is a physician-scientist and spends a little over a month each year taking care of patients in the hospital with a variety of infectious diseases. The remainder of his time is spent teaching virology to medical and graduate students in the classroom throughout the year. He recently won the prestigious Burroughs Wellcome Fund "Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease" Award, which supports accomplished investigators at the assistant professor level in bringing multidisciplinary approaches to the study of human infectious diseases.
“By studying how viruses change their behavior, spread through communities, and make people sick, we end up learning a lot about how evolution works."
Get to know Dr. Lauring and learn about his research:
What is your current research about?
My current research is focused on determining how the influenza virus evolves within people. Our strategy is to use high throughput viral sequencing and advanced bioinformatics to study the diversity of influenza viruses in people. We use this information to understand how viruses evolve and spread within people recruited through household and community-based cohorts in greater Ann Arbor. My work is highly interdisciplinary and I have close collaborations with epidemiologists at the School of Public Health and microbial ecologists in the School of Medicine and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.
What is an RNA virus and how is it different than a DNA virus?
An RNA virus is a virus that has RNA (ribonucleic acid) as its genetic material. Diseases that are caused by RNA viruses include Ebola, the common cold, influenza, hepatitis C, polio, and measles. A DNA virus is a virus that has DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) as its genetic material. DNA viruses include herpes viruses, papillomaviruses (HPV), and small pox. Significant differences between the two types of viruses include their mutation rates (RNA mutation rates are higher), stability (RNA viruses are less genetically stable than DNA viruses), and replication site (RNA replication often takes place in the cytoplasm while DNA replication takes place in the nucleus).
Why are you interested in this area of research?
RNA viruses are fascinating because they are “masters of evolution.” Because they mutate and adapt to new environments so rapidly, one can follow evolution over the course of days or weeks as opposed to millennia.
What question are you attempting to address with your research?
In my laboratory, we aim to identify which viruses are more likely to get transmitted from one person to the next and to define how influenza virus escapes from our immune system. This work may tell us why influenza vaccines fail to protect people from infection up to 30% of the time.
Why is this research important?
By studying how viruses change their behavior, spread through communities, and make people sick, we end up learning a lot about how evolution works. Since evolution is arguably the framework for all biological sciences, a clear understanding of evolution pays off in many ways.
What do you hope to achieve with this research?
Through understanding how viruses mutate and spread, I hope to help design vaccines that are more long-lasting and antiviral drugs that are “resistance-proof.”
What is your favorite aspect of conducting research?
One of my favorite aspects of conducting research is when, after spending so much time thinking about a model and designing the right experiment to test it, I see data that proves I might actually be right and have discovered something.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend time with my wife and three kids who are eight, six, and two. Our family likes to spend time together outdoors, including hiking and exploring nature. I also enjoy bicycling and reading non-fiction.
If you could have dinner with anyone from history, who would it be and why?
I’ll have to #goblue and #goviral with this one, and choose Thomas Francis. Francis was one of the founding faculty members at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Medical School. One of the medical services is named for him, and you can see a plaque honoring him on the 6th floor of the hospital. He was one of the first to culture and isolate influenza virus and developed a model of influenza virus immunity that continues to shape the field today. Francis was also a mentor to Jonas Salk, and led the field trial of the polio vaccine. This trial enrolled 1.8 million children, and the results were announced at the Rackham auditorium in 1955. It would be exciting to listen to him reflect on his work and to hear first hand accounts of these momentous events. I would love for him to hear about the current challenges of influenza vaccination and how vaccination has brought polio to the brink of eradication.
Learn more about Dr. Lauring and his research at The Lauring Lab.
- Visher E†, Whitefield SE†, McCrone JT, Fitzsimmons W, Lauring AS* (2016) The mutational robustness of influenza A virus, PLoS Pathogens, 12(8):e1005856
- Debbink K†, McCrone JT†, Petrie JG, Truscon R, Johnson E, Mantlo EK, Monto AS, Lauring AS* (2017) Vaccination has minimal impact on the intrahost diversity of influenza virus, PLoS Pathogens, 13(1):e1006194
- Pauly MD, Procario MC, and Lauring AS* (2017) A novel twelve class fluctuation test reveals higher than expected mutation rates for influenza A viruses, eLife, 6:e26437. Commentary at https://elifesciences.org/articles/29586
- McCrone JT, Woods RJ, Malosh RE, Martin ET, Monto AS, and Lauring AS* (2017) The evolutionary dynamics of influenza A virus within and between human hosts, bioRxiv, 10.1101/176362
- Lauring AS (2016) Lessons from reverse translation, PLoS Pathogens, 12(6):e1005516