Prof. Dr. Urs Greber

A personal statement

Why do I work with viruses? The quick answer is because viruses are so interesting. Viruses infect all cells and living beings on the planet, and have been in us ever since. Yet we do not know enough about them, especially, how they change the way their host cells work, and how they cause disease.

In the course of my studies of Experimental Biology at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, I became fascinated with the question how do cells work. During my doctoral and postdoctoral work at ETH and in the US, I developed procedures to better understand the inner workings of cells at the molecular level. I was fascinated by the question how eucaryotic cells receive cues from the outside, and transmit information to the cytoplasm and the nucleus, where most genes are regulated. To answer these questions, I decided to use viruses. Together with a dedicated team of students and scientists, we explore how some viruses deliver their genome into the cell nucleus, and others replicate and produce progeny in the cytoplasm.

Studying viruses to understand cells is a fascinating and intuitive approach. For example, we can ask the simple question, how do cells work the way we see them, and how do they change in the context of an infection? Over the years, we have developed methodologies to visualize viruses in living cells, and intercept the infection process with chemical and genetic methods directed against the virus or the cell. From such experiments, we derive rules and make predictions based on numerical models and statistics. We subject the findings to deep analyses and reinforce or reject predictions. Progressively, this approach leads to a more robost understanding of the inner workings of cells in tissues and organisms, and the viruses within them.