Sarah McDonald, PhD
Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute
Assistant Professor, Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Assistant Professor of Medicine (Infectious Disease), Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine
Research Program Summary
Understanding how viruses evolve as they replicate and spread in the human population is fundamentally important for effective disease control. Viruses with segmented, RNA genomes can undergo reassortment during co-infection, resulting in progeny with segments derived from more than one parent. These exchanges allow viruses to acquire advantageous genes and rapidly adapt to selective pressures. Yet, segment exchange between divergent strains requires that critical protein-protein interactions be maintained during viral replication. As such, gene reassortment is a mixed blessing-the advantage of increasing diversity is balanced by the disadvantage of unlinking co-evolved proteins that operate best when kept together. My lab's research seeks to better understand the mechanism of gene reassortment for rotaviruses, which are segmented, double-stranded RNA viruses and important causes of severe gastroenteritis in young children. Specifically, we employ sequence-based and structure-function approaches to investigate the influence of viral protein-protein interactions on (i) the generation of rotavirus reassortants during co-infection and (ii) the fitness of reassortant strains in nature. These studies will enhance our ability to predict strain emergence and aid in rational vaccine design.
For a full listing of Dr. McDonald's publications, visit PubMed.
Education and Training
- Vanderbilt University: Ph.D.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease: Postdoctoral fellowship
- National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, NIH
Senior Research Fellow, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases
Awards and Honors
- NIH Fellows Award for Research Excellence, 2008
- NIAID Merit Award, 2008
- Boudreaux CE, Vile D, Gilmore B, Tanner J, Kelly DF, McDonald SM. (2013). Rotavirus core shell subdomains involved in polymerase encapsidation. Journal of General Virology 94, 1818-26.
- McDonald SM. (2013). RNA synthetic mechanisms employed by diverse families of RNA viruses. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews in RNA 4(4), 351-67.
- McKell AO, Nichols JC, McDonald SM. (2013). PCR-based approach to distinguish group A human rotavirus genotype 1 versus genotype 2 genes. Journal of Virological Methods.
- McDonald SM, McKell AO, Rippinger CM, McAllen JK, Akopov A, Kirkness E, Payne DC, Edwards KM, Chappell J, Patton JT. (2012). Diversity and relationships of co-circulating modern human rotaviruses revealed using large-scale comparative genomics. Journal of Virology 86(17), 9148-62.
- Trask ST, McDonald SM, Patton JT. (2012). Structural insights into regulation of rotavirus replication. Nature Reviews in Microbiology 10, 165-77.
- McDonald SM, Patton JT. (2011). Rotavirus VP2 core shell regions critical for polymerase activation. J Virol 85(7), 3095-105.
- McDonald SM, Matthijnssens J, McAllen JK, Hine E, Overton L, Wang S, Lemey P, Zeller M, Van Ranst M, Spiro DJ, Patton JT. (2009). Evolutionary dynamics of human rotaviruses: balancing reassortment with preferred genome constellations. PLoS Pathogens 5(10), e1000634.