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Portland State virus study receives major NASA grant

Portland State University

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IMAGE: Ken Stedman, biology professor at Portland State University, won a major grant from NASA to study the evolution of viruses. view more 

Credit: Portland State University

(Portland, Ore.) -- Portland State biologist Ken Stedman has received a $540,000 grant from NASA to study the evolution of viruses, which may shed light on how viruses form, adapt and infect hosts.

The study stems from a bizarre virus Stedman discovered in a hot spring at Lassen Volcanic National Park five years ago. The virus's genetic code is derived from both DNA and its evolutionary predecessor, RNA. The vast majority of life on Earth switched its genetic code from RNA to DNA about four billion years ago, so the fact that this virus has both is highly unusual, according to Stedman.

Studying the hybrid virus may show that viruses themselves paved the way for genetic evolution eons ago. It may also show how viruses remain one of the most adaptable and resilient lifeforms on Earth. The NASA grant will fund a team of researchers to look into nature of the hybrid virus and how - and whom - it infects.

"This research seeks to further our fundamental understanding of evolution and the biochemical processes that drive it," Stedman said.

Stedman is co-founder of PSU's Center for Life in Extreme Environments, which explores the origins and physical and chemical boundaries of life. His article about a different aspect of viruses - their ability to infect hosts even after undergoing mutations - was highlighted in the May 2017 issue of the Journal of Virology.

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About Portland State University (PSU)

As Oregon's only urban public research university, Portland State offers tremendous opportunity to 27,000 students from all backgrounds. Our mission to "Let Knowledge Serve the City" reflects our dedication to finding creative, sustainable solutions to local and global problems. Our location in the heart of Portland, one of America's most dynamic cities, gives our students unmatched access to career connections and an internationally acclaimed culture scene. "U.S. News & World Report" ranks us among the nation's top 10 most innovative universities. http://www.pdx.edu | @PSUinfoandnews

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