Understanding viruses

Research experiences prepare undergraduate student to pursue a career in virology

“I like viruses,” said Floricel Gonzalez. “They’re awesome.”

The microbiology and English double major went on. “But we need to find ways to stop pandemics from happening. I want to contribute to organizations that work on those problems.”

As a WSU senior, she already had a head start. In 2014, Gonzalez took home a national award for oral presentation of her work about how viruses infect bacteria. At the annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in San Antonio, Texas, she was honored for her research, “Identification of Cell Surface Receptors Enabling Bacteriophage 7-7-1 Infection of Agrobacterium sp. H 13-3 via Transposon Mutagenesis.”

Gonzalez participated in the national McNair Achievement Program, which rigorously prepares underrepresented students to succeed in graduate school and encourages research experiences. Through the McNair program, Gonzalez landed a summer research internship at Virginia Tech, which resulted in her award-winning research.

Her McNair connections also led to a spot working in the WSU lab of Anthony Nicola, a professor in veterinary microbiology and pathology. There she explored the cell biology of herpes virus entry into host cells. A better understanding of how the virus interacts with the cell will identify novel targets for intervention. Gonzalez’s project is examining the effect of low-pH treatment on attachment of HSV-1 to cells.

Her research acumen stood out among young scholars nationwide. In the spring of 2015, Gonzalez was selected for a 10-week summer research program offered by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She traveled to Yale University in June to participate in research focused on the interactions between vector-borne pathogens, such as malaria and West Nile virus, and their host.

She plans to pursue a career as a research virologist.

“Research is not easy,” Gonzalez said. “It takes a lot of patience, a lot of thinking, a lot of troubleshooting. They’re skills you use in the laboratory, but you can apply them to the rest of life too.”