Generating Virus Genomes

Krista Queen, Ph.D., a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, identifies new and emerging viruses.

Krista Queen, Ph.D., has been on the front lines of response to disease outbreaks. She is on the Pathogen Discovery and Detection Team at the Division of Viral Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while serving as a fellow with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE).

“When the first case of MERS Coronavirus was identified in the United States, our group was tasked with sequencing the full genome to determine if any notable mutations were present,” explained Queen.

“A teammate and I spent the entire night in the lab setting up and running the assays needed in order to generate high quality sequence. We left the lab around 4:30 a.m. and came back around 9 a.m. to analyze the results- we were able to generate a publication-quality genome in less than 24 hours with no advance notice! Since then, we have put together kits and protocols to streamline the process, but at the time, it was quite an accomplishment.”

After receiving a doctorate in microbiology and biochemistry from Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, Queen applied for the ORISE fellowship because she wanted to gain experience while engaging in research with a public health impact.

While doing research in the CDC laboratory of Suxiang Tong, Ph.D., Queen participates in development and validation of new molecular assays to identify the pathogens involved in disease outbreaks, improve sample preparation, and identify new and emerging pathogens. She tests clinical samples from humans of diseases with unknown etiology, or causes, along with those associated with outbreaks and animal specimens to determine their likelihood of jumping to humans. The new assays she has developed as part of her research for detecting new and emerging viruses will improve CDC’s ability to respond to outbreaks of known and unknown origin.

She greatly enjoys how different each day can be. Assignments are very dynamic, with projects like the MERS Coronavirus sometimes needing immediate attention. Through her participation in the fellowship, Queen has learned about the many tools available for pathogen discovery. She has added molecular techniques, such as next-generation sequencing, to her lab repertoire.

The ORISE fellowship has provided a great opportunity for Queen to grow as a scientist while doing research with innovative leaders in the field of virology. Her scientific thinking process and writing skills have matured. She realizes the field has much room for advancement. “Many diseases still don’t have an identifiable etiology,” said Queen.

“I would encourage anyone who is interested to try and connect with someone who has done it or is currently in the program. ORISE participants have a wealth of knowledge to share to help someone determine if it is the right thing for them.”

Queen recommends the program as a great way to help guide future career choices. As for her career, she is going to continue with laboratory research and “keep pushing back the frontiers of known and emerging viruses!”