how I discovered my area of interest in virology analysis


At left a door opens into a room with several yellow and orange biosafety suits handing upside from ceiling

Hulda Jónsdóttir wears inflatable protecting fits like these to review deadly viruses.Credit score: Spiez Laboratory

Virologist Hulda Jónsdóttir research a few of the world’s most pathogenic viruses on the Spiez Laboratory in Spiez, Switzerland. For her, extremely pathogenic viruses are extra typically a supply of curiosity than of concern. Jónsdóttir, who runs a analysis group on the Spiez Laboratory, often dons a large, inflatable protecting go well with to analysis disinfectants and antiviral compounds to fight a number of deadly viruses, together with Ebola virus and Lassa virus. Jónsdóttir spoke to Nature about carving her personal path in virology analysis and why she selected to pursue a profession in Switzerland and on the Spiez Laboratory, which is owned and funded by the Swiss authorities.

Why do you examine deadly viruses?

I’ve all the time been fascinated by viruses. They comprise barely something, but they’ve such a big effect on dwelling organisms. A lot of the viruses my lab and I examine are extremely pathogenic and deadly, corresponding to Ebola virus, Lassa virus, Nairovirus and Nipah virus. As a result of these are all so deadly and don’t have vaccines or cures, they’re thought of biosafety degree (BSL) 4. I’ve to put on a giant inflated go well with that’s connected to an air provide exterior the room after I conduct my experiments.

What are you engaged on now?

My colleagues and I simply began a three-year venture to develop a mannequin for testing antivirals in opposition to Nipah viruses, that are respiratory viruses that trigger encephalitis. I additionally do disinfection research for extremely pathogenic viruses. Proper now, we’re how efficient home made cleaning soap is as a disinfectant for Lassa virus, which is endemic in Nigeria in addition to another international locations in West Africa.

What led you to your place on the Spiez Laboratory?

After I completed my PhD in virology on the Swiss Federal Institute of Expertise (ETH) in Zurich in 2016, I stayed within the lab for a 12 months as a postdoctoral researcher. By that time, I wasn’t positive whether or not I needed to remain in science. Then I noticed an commercial for a two-year postdoctoral placement in respiratory toxicology on the College of Bern. I believed that the expertise would assist me decide whether or not I used to be bored with science as an entire or simply feeling disillusioned with my present setting as a result of I had been there for therefore lengthy. There, I noticed that I nonetheless appreciated doing science and that I missed virology analysis.

Two years later, I noticed a postdoctoral job on the Spiez Laboratory to review an experimental Ebola vaccine. The venture required BSL-4 work, which was one thing I had dreamt of doing since I began working in respiratory virology. I made a decision to use for the place. It’s been 5 years, and I’m nonetheless right here.

How does the Spiez Laboratory differ from educational labs?

We’re a authorities establishment, and a part of the Swiss Federal Workplace of Civil Safety. Within the biology division, we’ve got governmental mandates to do analysis that’s related to Swiss civil safety, though after all we are able to deal with different matters as properly. I do loads of utilized analysis that advantages the general public, corresponding to looking for antiviral medicine in opposition to infectious illnesses. We additionally collaborate with the navy by coaching troopers for organic civil safety twice a 12 months. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, troopers helped personnel from the Spiez Lab to run diagnostic assessments for COVID-19.

Together with analysis, we run a daily diagnostic service for hospitals and docs who ship samples to us to be examined. In contrast to an instructional lab, you want safety clearance to work right here.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic have an effect on your analysis?

I began engaged on coronaviruses throughout my PhD, so I had loads of expertise with them by the point the pandemic hit. I used to be doing my BSL-4 coaching on the Spiez Laboratory after I first heard about COVID-19. On the time, I felt pissed off as a result of I used to be progressing in my profession after which bought pulled again into coronavirus analysis. However I had to determine analysis SARS-CoV-2 or my lab would have been shut down. By the center of 2020, I used to be consistently being contacted by researchers to do antiviral drug assessments, and by the navy to do serological assessments of troopers. My colleagues and I analysed troopers’ responses to the virus and estimated the share of asymptomatic individuals. Doing COVID-19 analysis was very chaotic for some time; everyone needed outcomes instantly. However in a means, I used to be grateful that I may nonetheless go to work, even when it was loopy busy. As a foreigner, I used to be distant from my household, so it was tough being so remoted.

Why did you determine to remain in Switzerland?

I grew up in Iceland and all the time needed to review overseas. I got here to Switzerland 12 years in the past and was planning on staying just for my PhD. However I stored ending up in good locations with good individuals the place I felt supported and impressed.

As superficial because it sounds, it’s additionally concerning the cash. Switzerland invests a good amount of cash in science, and I’ve been lucky to be a part of initiatives which might be already funded or straightforward to get funding for.

However I don’t suppose individuals all the time speak about how arduous it’s to maneuver to a brand new nation. After I first arrived in St Gallen, Switzerland, in 2012, I felt remoted as a result of I didn’t know the language and had a tough time making buddies. In January 2014, I moved to Bern, which was a lot better as a result of there have been extra individuals round and I appreciated the town. I additionally joined an English-speaking theatre group referred to as the Caretakers. I met lots of people, a few of whom are actually my greatest buddies. One large difficulty whenever you go overseas to do science is that loads of your friends go away after their contracts finish, so your folks change into scattered all over the world. My theatre group has been extra fixed; it’s been a lifesaver for me.

Any recommendation for early-career scientists?

It’s vital to relaxation sufficiently if you wish to do good analysis. The system is geared in the direction of you working as a lot as potential, however you simply find yourself burning out. If there’s something I can suggest, it’s having extra vacation time. In Switzerland, I’ve 5 weeks of holidays, 4 of that are legally mandated. However I acknowledge that I’m immensely privileged to have the ability to take a lot day off. It’s not all the time potential, relying on somebody’s monetary state of affairs, lab setting or the nation they stay in.

Educational tradition typically places a lot stress on PhD college students and postdocs that it squeezes them till there’s nothing left, which is one thing I’m closely in opposition to. As a gaggle of researchers, I believe we must always work in the direction of altering that tradition, partially by lobbying for extra day off. As a person, even in case you can’t journey or take massive chunks of time away from the lab, you may nonetheless put a ways between your self and your job. For example, in case you’re working from dwelling on a Friday, shut your pc at 5 and put it in a unique room. Simply having a bit of little bit of house lets you work higher.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

This text is a part of Nature Highlight: Switzerland, an editorially unbiased complement. Advertisers haven’t any affect over the content material.


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