The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff announced in a press release that they have been awarded $6.1 million to establish a research institute focused on virology and virus ecology. As a sub-awardee on the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, UAPB will serve as a hub site for the Host-Virus Evolutionary Dynamics Institute (HVEDI) with the University of Arkansas (UA).

Dr. Anissa Buckner, professor and chair of the Biology Department ,serves as a co-principal investigator on the primary award with UA and serves as the lead on the sub-award to UAPB. Buckner and assistant professor Dr. Traci Hudson will work alongside the principal investigator, Dr. Ruben Michael Ceballos from the Department of Biological Sciences at UA and other HVEDI collaborators at La Universidad Interamericana (Aguadilla, Puerto Rico), the University of Maine (Orno, ME), and Ouachita Baptist University. The main project research focus of Buckner and Hudson will be on a murine (i.e., mouse) roseola virus system that may serve as an animal model for human herpesvirus infections that lead to multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The research will be conducted with scientists studying multiple virus systems across all domains of life – Bacteria, Archaea, and Eukarya. Their goal is to establish fundamental Rules of Life or laws of virology that apply to all viruses – or at least large sets of virus systems. Researchers at the institute will begin by studying a set of low-virulence double-stranded viruses, including one system from each domain of life, to model virus-host dynamics within and between virus systems. Concurrently, researchers will develop a set of systems to compare and test the universality of fundamental rules developed from the core systems from each domain.

A central goal of the institute will be to expand the suite of viruses by recruiting other labs and institutions to participate in the research. Using a common experimental approach, data from studies of all virus systems will be compared and integrated to generate Rules of Life that drive variables such as species jump, virus harbor state, changes in transmission rates, and the emergence of highly virulent virus strains.

The institute will be supported by a new microscopy core facility equipped with a high-end confocal fluorescence microscope, electron microscopes, and light microscopes. It will also feature a core virology and virus ecology laboratory. This infrastructure will support research efforts as well as domestic and international collaborative projects, training workshops, planning meetings, and initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.