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Benjamin G. Kopek Assistant Professor of Biology
Positive-strand RNA [(+)RNA] viruses are significant threats to human health and include pathogens that are the leading cause of liver cancer and foodborne illnesses in the U.S. All (+)RNA viruses replicate their RNA genome in association with host intracellular membranes, although different (+)RNA viruses assemble their RNA replication complexes on distinct organellar membranes. The (+)RNA virus I study, Flock House virus (FHV), replicates its RNA genome in association with the outer mitochondrial membrane. During the course of FHV infection, the mitochondria are repositioned within the cell where they are tightly clustered and 50 nm membranous invaginations of the outer membrane are formed. These invaginations of the outer membrane are virus-induced replication compartments where FHV replicates its genome. Our lab seeks to understand the structure, organization, and formation of FHV membrane-bound replication complexes because such knowledge may lead to ways of improving virus control for pathogenic (+)RNA viruses.
A second aspect of my research is biological imaging method development. In particular, I have been involved in developing methods to correlate images from super-resolution fluorescent microscopy with electron micrographs. These correlative microscopy techniques "colorize" electron micrographs with the precise location of fluorescently-labeled biological targets, providing a detailed view of the organization of complex structures. Our lab continues to develop and use these methods and advanced technologies as part of our overall biological research goals.
I received my B.A. from Spring Arbor University where I had a variety of research experiences. One significant experience was spending a summer at Saitama University in Japan performing organic chemistry research, which resulted in a publication (Hirose et al. 2003). The next summer I participated in an undergraduate research experience at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center with Dr. Adam Zlotnick where I worked on hepatitis B virus capsid assembly. This experience also resulted in a publication (Stray et al. 2006). Spurred on by my summer in Oklahoma I decided to pursue graduate studies in virology. I enrolled in the Cellular and Molecular Biology program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where I worked with Dr. Paul Ahlquist to examine the replication mechanisms of the Flock House virus. During my graduate studies I pursued a variety of imaging techniques, including electron microscope tomography.
After graduate school, I did a postdoc at Janelia Research campus with Dr. David Clayton and Dr. Harald Hess. My research at Janelia focused on studies of mitochondrial DNA and nucleoids using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy. During the course of these studies, we realized that we needed more contextual information on target localization. To do this, we developed a method to correlate images of precisely localized and specifically labeled fluorescent targets with electron micrographs. Thus, we were able to "colorize" electron micrographs with protein localization data.
My move to Hope College came out of a desire to teach and work with undergraduate students both in the classroom and the research lab.
Please make an appointment to see me.
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