Marc Johnson began his research career studying a rabies-like virus in fish. “Working with fish viruses is really cool research,” he notes, but there are just not a lot of people doing it,” and that sense of isolation was eventually too much. In search of collaboration and community, Johnson switched from fish viruses to HIV. Since then, the assistant professor in MU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology has dedicated his research efforts to the study of these related humans viruses. He and his collaborators have made great progress in understanding how the HIV virus works in order to develop new therapeutics to combat the disease.
While scientists have developed ways to treat HIV, they have yet to develop a cure for the devastating disease because they have not been able to kill every last infected cell. “HIV has our immune system’s ‘number.’ Our immune system cannot figure out that those are infected cells and that it needs to kill them.” The protein responsible for HIV virus replication is the Gag protein. Much of Johnson’s current work is focused on understanding how Gag orchestrates this replication, as this knowledge could be used to uncover a treatment capable of triggering the immune system’s response.