Sophia Fehrmann

Identification of Elements Within the HIV Genome Responsible for Viral Persistence

Faculty mentor: Dr. LaMont Cannon

Department: Center for the Study of Biological Complexity

In a nutshell: Cells which are infected with HIV decay at different rates based on the elements in the genome. This project is working to identify which elements in the genome influence the decay rate the most.

In a bigger shell: The use of combined Antiretroviral Therapy (cART) has dramatically changed the natural history of HIV infection, as cART is able to control viral replication in most individuals. Unfortunately, cART is not able to completely eradicate the virus due to the establishment of a latent reservoir prior to treatment. Recent research has aimed to better characterize the composition and dynamics of this latent reservoir with the hope that a better understanding of how the reservoir is formed and maintained will ultimately lead to a cure. Numerous studies have developed and published HIV genome data in support of such objectives. These datasets have by themselves lead researchers to make novel discoveries; however, they may also be collectively analyzed to unearth additional findings regarding the disease. This ever-increasing collection of HIV data begs the need for a more intricate computational analysis from which to glean further conclusions. The National Cancer Institute recently developed an HIV proviral sequence database (PSD) for the explicit purpose of such large meta-analyses. Using these data, the objective of this study is to perform a compound bioinformatic analysis of HIV genomic data to gain new insights into the factors that lead to HIV persistence.

End of year goal: To identify which elements in the genome have the most impact and influence on the viral decay rate in order to better understand HIV persistence.

A tip for others: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.