Q: What attracted you to the field of autophagy?
I was working on the molecular mechanisms of host defense related to interferon-gamma. I read a nice paper from Adi Kimchi noting the role of DAP Kinases some process called autophagy in the response to interferon-gamma. This triggered me to attend a meeting (Gordon Conference) on lysosomes. My interest in antigen presentation and intracellular proteolysis of phagocytosed materials, plus the cool science, hooked me. The international flavor of the community, and the exceptional people I met (many of whom are good friends) held my interest as well. I see science as a lens through which cultural progress can be focused. Why not do wo in a community studying a process as important as autophagy?
Q: What do you consider to be the most exciting recent discovery in autophagy?
Ralph Nixon’s work proposing an entirely new paradigm for Alzheimer’s disease, which incidentally killed my mom.
Q: What is the career achievement you are most proud of?
Probably being recognized by my colleagues as a member of the NAS. In turn this leads to probably the most important discovery my team made, which was the identification of murine norovirus, the fist culture of a norovirus, the first structure of an authentic norovirus, and the first genetic system for studying norovirus disease. Incidentally that led to the discovery that virus infection could trigger intestinal disease phenotypes in murine Paneth cells in mice carrying a mutation in the autophagy gene Atg16L1, and that this new pathology occurred in people with ATG16L1 mutations and Crohn’s disease. This is the ‘virius plus gene’ hypothesis for variations in human genetic phenotypes. By the way, it was in the study of interferon gamma control of murine norovirus that non-autophagy functions of autophagy genes became clear, opening up essentially all the work I have done in autophagy since. One thing leads to another if you have great people, listen to your mentors, and follow your instincts as to what might be transformational.
Q: Why do you think networks like WIA are beneficial?
Science is becoming more and more collaborative with the top work occurring in consortia of many labs from different disciplines. This puts a high premium on networks with other scientists. Networks have often, for reasons of bias and neglect (among others) , not included women or individuals with diverse backgrounds. Thus the WIA serves a key function in building networks to improve the impact of its scientists.
About Herbert "Skip"
Herbert "Skip" Virgin, M.D., Ph.D., is Chief Medical Officer and Head of the Altos Institute of Medicine, Adjunct Professor of Pathology and Immunology at Washington University, and Adjunct Professor of Internal Medicine at UTSouthwestern Medical Center.
He received A.B., M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University and Harvard Medical School and trained in internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and in infectious diseases at Barnes Hospital. He received his PhD for work in bacterial immunity and did his postdoctoral work in the genetics of viral virulence and disease. His clinical training coincided with the HIV/AIDS outbreak, leading to a life-long commitment to fighting emerging infections and preventing the ill effects of tissue damage. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the American Academy of Microbiology and the National Academy of Sciences. His is a past member of the board of reviewing editors at Science and Cell.
Dr. Virgin’s laboratory defined mechanisms of viral pathogenesis and immunity in vivo. They identified the role and mechanisms of several RNA and DNA virus immune evasion molecules, and studied immune effector mechanisms including ISG15, interferon-γ, interferon-λ, interferon-α, cGAS and autophagy genes.