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Science on Tap talk to focus on deceptive characteristics of coronaviruses


Andrew Mesecar, Purdue University's Walther Professor of Cancer Structural Biology, will discuss the deceptive characteristics of coronaviruses and the quest for drugs that could defeat them during next week's Science on Tap.

The talk, titled "Coronaviruses - 21st Century Threats," is at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 in the upstairs of Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. The informal lecture, which is free and open to those 21 and older, is sponsored by the Purdue Department of Biological Sciences, the College of Science and Discovery Park.

"Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), caused by the SARS coronavirus, emerged in 2003 as the 21st century's first global pandemic," Mesecar said. "Infecting more than 8,000 people and causing over 800 deaths worldwide, coronaviruses seemed to emerge out of the blue and caused worldwide panic and economic losses in billions of dollars.

"It may be surprising to most people that coronaviruses have been causing common colds and flu-like symptoms in humans for decades, but they're not normally diagnosed by physicians since they are not life threatening."

Even animals can be infected with deadly coronavirus infections, Mesecar said. Household cats can succumb to the deadly Feline Coronavirus (FCoV). And this year, millions of pigs have died in the United States because of lethal porcine respiratory coronavirus (PRCV) infections, also known as porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV).

Unlike most viruses, which send out an alarm to trigger an infection-fighting immune response, coronaviruses have the ability to strip a host cell of the proteins ubiquitin and ISG15, which are necessary to inform the immune system and initiate this response, he said.

Mesecar and his research team have recently figured out how to disable a part of the SARS virus responsible for hiding it from the immune system, a critical step in developing a vaccine against the deadly disease.

"This is a first step toward creating a weakened and safe virus for use in an attenuated live vaccine," Mesecar said. "This also could serve as a molecular roadmap for performing similar studies on other coronaviruses, like MERS, because this enzyme appears to be common to all viruses within this family."

Mesecar received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Purdue, his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Notre Dame and he completed his postdoctoral research at the University of California, Berkeley.

He is the deputy director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research and he was recently awarded the Lafayette Lions Club award for outstanding achievements in cancer research at Purdue.

Science on Tap, led by graduate students David Welkie, Anju Karki and Nelda Vazquez, provides Purdue faculty and collaborating researchers the opportunity to share research activities in an informal setting with presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience. Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first four years.

Writers: Emily Sigg, 765-494-4719,

Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources: Andrew Mesecar, 765-494-1924,

David Welkie, 765-494-0455,

Nelda Vazquez,

Anju Karki, 765-494-0455,

Original article published in Purdue Today September 17, 2014.

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