Nicholas Wu

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
2022 Scholar

Research Interests

Systematic identification of antibody sequence signatures for epitope prediction

A major research focus of Dr. Nicholas Wu’s lab is the interaction between antibody and virus. When we get infected with virus or receive vaccination, our body will generate antibodies, which represent an important defensive mechanism against future infection. The sequences of antibodies are very diverse. It is estimated that there are one quadrillion unique antibody clones among the human population. This huge diversity of antibodies can ensure that we can defense against different pathogens and attack each pathogen in multiple ways. The Wu lab studies how antibodies interact with viruses at the molecular level.

Another research focus of the Wu lab is virus evolution. In order to continue circulating in the human population without being wiped out by antibodies, virus needs to rapidly evolve to escape antibody response that is elicited by vaccination or previous infection. However, the virus cannot evolve by simply accumulating random mutations on the genome, because many mutations on the genome are deleterious to the virus. In other words, there are constraints on virus evolution. Examples of constraints include protein stability and protein functionality. Mutations that unfold the viral protein or abolish its essential function, such as receptor binding, are useless for evolution. The Wu lab investigates the biophysical rules that govern the constraints of virus evolution.

Research approaches taken by the Wu lab are highly multidisciplinary, involving high-throughput biology, virology, structural biology, immunology, and computational biology. The research in the Wu lab has important implications in the modelling of virus evolution as well as the development of next-generation vaccine.

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