Our research focuses on viruses found in the extreme environment of volcanic acid hot springs. Because it is presumed that the earliest life lived under similar conditions, studying these viruses can help inform viral evolution, and the evolution of all of life itself.
One main area of study for our lab focuses on the thermoacidophilic archaeon Saccharolobus (previously called Sulfolobus) and related viruses. These viruses are completely different, both in physical capsid structure and genome composition, from almost any other known viruses.
How do they and their hosts function at such high temperatures (80º C /176º F) and high acidity (pH below 4)? Why are these viruses so unique? What can they teach us about the evolution of other viruses, life on earth, and even life beyond earth? The Stedman Lab uses genetic, genomic, structural and biochemical tools to answer these questions and more about these enigmatic viruses.
Recently we discovered a completely new group of viruses in a hot acidic lake that appears to have formed by an unprecedented RNA-DNA recombination event. We are only beginning to learn about how widespread and diverse these "cruciviruses" really are.
While looking for virus fossils, we also discovered a way to reversibly inactivate viruses, which may revolutionize vaccine formulation, potentially saving millions of lives. With a grant from the Gates Foundation, we are also researching how to use this technology to preserve the eggs of intestinal parasites, used for field diagnosis. We are also looking at silver nanoparticles as a new kind of broad spectrum antiviral.
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