Molecular Biology of Coronaviruses; Modifying the Roles of Proteins in Foods; Discovery, Recovery & Curation of the 1,200-yr-old Dugout Canoe from L. Mendota

Come Explore the Unknown!
By Zoom:  at  
In Person: Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison.
7pm Central. Every Wednesday Night, 50 Times a Year
29 March 2022    
Hi WN@TL Fans,
Again this week, let me lead with a special invitation:  I hope you, your friends & family will mark your calendars for April 8, 9 and 10 and set aside some time to come to explore UW-Madison during our 20th Annual UW Science Expeditions campus open house.  More than two dozen venues will open their doors to you over the three days.  
Because of covid, this will be the first Science Expeditions in three years that you can again adventure across campus to talk with scientists and venture into some of the places and spaces that make this such a remarkable Destination for Exploration.  
Check out the Timetables and Maps at, and chart out your exploration into science at UW-Madison.
In the run-up to this week’s talk, I hope you have a way to check out the NY Times graphic showing how the covid virus continues to evolve right under our noses and in our lungs.  One key reason coronaviruses are evolutionarily slipperier than a shiner in a bait bucket is that their genetic recipe card is made of RNA.
For many folks, RNA is the bland weaker cousin of DNA, the robust stuff of the gorgeous double-helix.  RNA seems but a single-stranded handmaiden of transfer, transcription, translation.
Yet fans of RNA savor the audacity of RNA. It’s the working messenger.  RNA can also be a catalyst, an enzyme, a speeder and spreader of reactions.  RNA is like a slot machine, a biochemical one-armed bandit constantly cranking out new combinations by the thousands, and eventually hitting on that one-in-a-million jackpot that’ll be favored by natural selection.
That’s why for me, when it comes to the pantheon of molecular biology, RNA plays Mercury to DNA’s Apollo: Mercury’s remit includes being “god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence, messages, communication, travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery, merchants, and thieves.”  Sounds a lot like the covid virus to me.
On March 30 Robert Kirchdoerfer of Biochemistry will be here to share his insights into the virus that causes covid, and ways to exploit those insights to impede infection and reduce disease.  His talk is entitled “Molecular Biology of Coronaviruses.”

Description:  Coronaviruses are pathogens of both animals and humans. This family of viruses circulates with diverse reservoirs of viruses in animal populations. Periodic transmission of a coronavirus from an animal host to a human host with subsequent human-to-human transmission resulting in outbreaks of novel coronaviruses in the humans. The 21st century has seen three of these crossover events. SARS-CoV emerged in 2002 and was quickly contained using public health measures. MERS-CoV emerged in 2012 and continued animal-to-human transmission events have continued to the present day. Finally, SARS-CoV-2 emerged in 2019 to spur the global COVID-19 pandemic. Over the decades, we have learned a lot about how coronaviruses enter cells and replicate their RNA genomes. These studies were key preparations for the rapid development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and antiviral therapies.

Coronaviruses enter host cells using large viral spike proteins. As part of their entry process, these spikes undergo large conformational changes to recognize host cells and fuse viral membranes with host cell membranes. Atomic models derived from cryo-electron microscopy studies were key to understanding these conformational changes and lead to the design of spike-like proteins to elicit better antibody responses. These designed spike-like proteins have been incorporated into several popular COVID-19 vaccines including those offered by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.
After entering host cells, a coronavirus must replicate and transcribe its viral genome to produce new viral proteins and viral genomes. Coronaviruses carry their genomes as single pieces of RNA. As host cells do not have a polymerase capable of copying an RNA template, the virus supplies its own polymerase. In coronaviruses, these polymerases form large protein-protein complexes to combine several enzyme activities and co-factors. High-resolution imaging using electron microscopes has shown us how the polymerase accepts substrates for genome transcription and replication. These studies are also starting points for understanding how antiviral drugs like remdesivir and molnupiravir, approved for the treatment of COVID-19, interact with viral proteins and inhibit viral replication.
Bio:  Dr. Robert Kirchdoerfer, Ph.D., grew up in Oregon, Wisconsin before attending college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studied Genetics and Biochemistry. He received his Ph.D. working with Ian Wilson at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California studying the replication of influenza virus. Dr. Kirchdoerfer’s postdoctoral work, also at the Scripps Research Institute focused on the replication of Ebola virus and the cellular entry and replication of coronaviruses. He joined the faculty of University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2019 as a member of the Biochemistry Department, the Institute for Molecular Virology and the Center for Quantitative Cell Imaging where he continues to carry out high-resolution imaging of coronavirus proteins.
Explore More:
Kirchdoerfer Lab website:
SARS-CoV-2 Life cycle animation:
US Center for Disease Control:


On April 6 Audrey Girard of Food Science will show us ways of “Modifying the Roles of Proteins in Foods Using Plant Extracts.

Description: Proteins have many functions in foods. Beyond their nutritional properties, they play a wide range of structure, texture, and flavor roles. These roles can be modified with other ingredients, but consumers increasingly desire short ingredient statements with familiar and easy-to-identify components. Further, many households want ingredients in their foods that add a functional benefit such as beneficial bioactive compounds like polyphenols. Along with their bioactive properties, polyphenols are known to modify protein function.

Polyphenols are ubiquitous plant compounds that offer many potential health benefits including anti-inflammatory properties, cardiovascular benefits, and chemoprotective effects. The healthful perception of foods such as cranberries, dark chocolate, and red wine is derived primarily from the benefits of polyphenols. However, polyphenols themselves are unstable and susceptible to degradation during processing and storage.
The affinity of proteins and polyphenols for one another results in protein-polyphenol interactions that can be leveraged to improve protein function and polyphenol stability. There are a range of potential impacts of protein-polyphenol interactions based on the specific proteins and polyphenols interacted, as well as the conditions under which they interact. This talk will focus on sorting through those potentials and identifying processing conditions that produce desired results.

Bio:  Dr. Audrey Girard is an assistant professor specializing in food chemistry in the Department of Food Science at UW-Madison. She earned a B.S. in Bakery Science & Management from Kansas State University and a Ph.D. in Food Science & Technology from Texas A&M University. Audrey’s overarching research goal is to use protein chemistry to improve food quality and sustainability, as well as to promote human health.

Explore More:
Lab website:
UW-Madison Dept. of Food Sci. website:
Photo & Story from The Guardian
On April 8 at 7pm at the Wisconsin Historical Society auditorium (on Library Mall across from Memorial Union) we’ll have a Special Friday Night Edition of Wednesday Nite @ the Lab featuring the team of archeologists from WHS who this fall helped discover and recover a 1,200-year-old dugout canoe from the bottom of Lake Mendota.  This remarkable saga makes for a splendid opening event for the 20th Annual UW Science Expeditions campus open house April 8-10.
Repeating for emphasis:  This special edition will not be on Wednesday;  it’ll be on Friday (April 8);  and this special edition will not be at the Biotech Center; rather, it’ll be at the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium on Library Mall across from Memorial Union.  It will start at 7pm.
On April 13 James Crall of Entomology will speak on “Insects and Ecosystem Services on a Changing Planet:  Insights from the Humble Bumble Bee.”
Remember, we’ve now shifted to Hybrid so we can both Zoom and gather in one Room—Room 1111 Genetics Biotech Center, 425 Henry Mall, Madison WI.
Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!
Tom ZinnenBiotechnology Center & Division of Extension, Wisconsin 4-H