Making the Virus Causing COVID-19 Safe for Research

For February 24, 2021

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Hi WN@TL Fans,

Here we are at the end of February, a few days from the first of March, which is the first day of meteorological spring.  Ah, resurgence — and soon, re-emergence.

This week is also the start of our 16th year of Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.  Sarah Schutt of the Wisconsin Alumni Association and I started WN@TL on February 22, 2006, aided by a Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Grant.

WN@TL met originally in Room 1360 (the Conference Room) at the Biotech Center.  The following year, 2007, was The Year of Going Digital in broadcast TV in the US, and that happily meant the rise of a new series called University Place led by Tina Hauser at Wisconsin Public Television.  Tina’s colleagues at WPT (now PBS Wisconsin) started to record WN@TL nearly every week starting in October 2007, and for better access to the Biotech Center’s AV infrastructure we soon moved WN@TL to the Auditorium.  You can now watch many WN@TLs broadcast on the University Place series of PBS Wisconsin, and you can view over 400 WN@TL episodes anytime at the University Place website.

Fifteen years is a long time.  Alas, sometimes a single year is even longer.  The past year qualifies:  barely a year ago in the US we started getting our first cases of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.  Three days ago we marked the passage of the somber milestone of 500,000 deaths from covid in the US.

Keeping the astonishing momentum of research on the virus and the disease is a key challenge for scientists and clinicians around the world. Luckily, as it was possible to shift and adapt WN@TL at the Biotech Center to better fit the needs of our audiences, it’s likewise possible in the lab to shift and modify the SARS-CoV-2 virus to make it safer for research.

Tonight, February 24,  Rebecca Hutcheson from the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research will present her insights into “Making the Virus Causing COVID-19 Safe for Research.”

Description: The virus that causes COVID-19 must be studied by scientists in high biosafety containment facilities, slowing the progress of research. The Sugden lab is tackling this issue by engineering a safer version of the original virus that will used at a lower biosafety level. This new system will improve the safety for scientists studying the virus, make research easier, and will serve to accelerate research that will help to end the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bio: Rebecca Hutcheson is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is from Georgia, where she earned her BS in biochemistry and molecular biology from Mercer University in 2015. Following her undergraduate work, she spent a year teaching in Thailand then returned to science and entered the Cellular and Molecular Pathology PhD program at UW with a focus on virology and cancer biology. Rebecca is a member of Bill Sugden’s group, where the lab is currently working to develop a safer derivative of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the recent COVID-19 public health crisis.


Next week Adrian Treves of the Nelson Institute speaking March 3 on “Wolf Policy and Its Effects on Illegal Killing, Human Tolerance, and Recovery.”

Description: Reporting new evidence from Wisconsin’s wolves, red wolves and Mexican gray wolves, Dr. Treves presents the state of the science on endangered wolf policy. Four lines of evidence show that ‘blood does not buy goodwill’. Legalizing wolf-killing does not raise tolerance for wolves, does not reduce poaching, and slows population growth more than expected from legal mortality. The best available science shows that cryptic poaching and concealment of evidence increases instead. Therefore, lethal management of predators should be reformed.

Bio: Adrian Treves focuses on ecology, scientific integrity, public trust principles, and agro-ecosystems where crops and domestic animals overlap carnivore habitat. Founder and Director of the Carnivore Coexistence Lab, and Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he earned his PhD at Harvard University in 1997. He and his lab have authored >134 scientific papers, best known for our gold-standard experiments on non-lethal prevention of predation on domestic animals, estimates of illegal wolf-killing and cryptic poaching, and our work on risk maps to predict human-carnivore conflict sites.

Explore More:


In addition to WN@TL’s anniversary, I have another happy milestone today:  this afternoon I get to take a second family member to get their first covid shot.

Yes, the end of this February is a time of seasonal resurgence and of re-emergence;  it is also, I hope, a time of redemption.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H