Ollmann Saphire Laboratory


In biomedical science, we seek to improve human health by discovering fundamental principles that inform as much of biology as possible. In this arena, analysis of viruses is particularly informative. Viruses are under tremendous pressure for economy of genomic information, and evolution has compelled viral proteins to offer the most functional “bang” for the polypeptide “buck”.

My lab studies viruses with compact genomes. For these viruses, every protein is critical. Many perform multiple functions, and as we are beginning to discover, some of them are actually able to rearrange their structures to acquire new functions. As a result, although the goal of our work is improvement of public health, our results also illuminate the transformations, functionalities and plasticity of proteins in general, with application to all of molecular biology.

The viruses we study have compact genomes that encode just 4-7 genes each. Viruses with limited genomes offer a defined landscape of possible protein-protein interactions in organismal assembly and function. With a defined set of protein structures, one can visualize all the stages of a life cycle. Most importantly, these structures provide a roadmap for us to design immunological, cellular, and biochemical experiments to understand viral disease. By systematically analyzing each protein the virus encodes (as we set out to do for the Ebola and Lassa viruses in particular), we can illuminate the biology of entry, immune evasion and assembly, and understand the collaborative roles of these proteins in pathogenesis. Our findings have provided irreplaceable insights into how viruses assault human health, and immediate and concrete strategies for medical defense.


Gary Kobinger, Ph.D.

Public Health Agency of Canada

Cory Nykiforuk, Ph.D.

Emergent Biosolutions

Kartik Chandran, Ph.D.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Jonathan Lai, Ph.D.

Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Leslie Lobel, Ph.D.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Robert F. Garry, Ph.D.

Tulane University School of Medicine

James Robinson, M.D.
Tulane University School of Medicine

Thomas Geisbert, Ph.D.

University of Texas Medical Branch

Larry Zeitlin, Ph.D.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical

John Dye, Ph.D.


Yoshihiro Kawaoka, Ph.D.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Luis Branco, Ph.D.

Zalgen Labs

Sheng Li, Ph.D.

University of California, San Diego

Kelly Warfield, Ph.D.

Integrated BioTherapeutics

Andrew Ward, Ph.D.

The Scripps Research Institute