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Perera Lab: Research Staff and Students






​Dr. ​Rushika Perera
114 AIDL
Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology
College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Colorado State University
Phone: (970) 491-8611

Jordan Steel

Ph.D, Post-doctoral Fellow
Our lab is interested in how viruses utilize and alter cellular metabolic pathways to successfully replicate. Lipid biosynthesis is critical for flavivirus infection and I am collaborating with other lab members to identify key enzymes that are involved in virus-induced changes in lipid biosynthesis. We are screening siRNA libraries to identify enzymes that are critical for flavivirus infection. We hypothesize that the lipid biosynthesis pathway is significantly altered during infection and we hope to determine which steps of the pathway are affected and how the virus is instigating these changes.
I am also working to understand how virus infection affects carbon metabolism, specifically glycolysis and the TCA cycle. We are using commercially available inhibitors to block specific steps of the glycolysis / TCA pathway and are monitoring the effects on cellular viability and virus replication. We anticipate that the virus is manipulating carbon metabolism pathways similar to other metabolic pathways and we hope to identify which steps are being altered and how the change is being induced. This increased understanding of viral manipulation of the host cell will provide novel insights into virus replication and will hopefully provide novel targets for antiviral or vaccine development.
2009; B.S. Biology, Brigham Young University - Idaho, St. Rexburg, ID
2014; Ph.D. Cell and Molecular Biology (emphasis in molecular alpha- and flavi- virology), Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Professional Memberships
American Society for Virology
American Society for Microbiology

  1. Oxidative Stress Regulates Flavivirus RNA Synthesis and Capping. Gullberg RC, Steel JJ, Moon SL, Soltani E, Geiss BJ. (Pending) PLoS Pathogens. 2014
  2. Subgenomic reporter RNA system for detection of alphavirus infection in mosquitoes. Steel JJ, Franz AW, Sanchez-Vargas I, Olson KE, Geiss BJ. PLoS One. 2013 Dec 19. Pubmed 24367703
  3. Infectious alphavirus production from a simple plasmid transfection Steel JJ, Henderson BR, Lama SB, Olson KE, Geiss BJ Virology Journal 2011 Jul 19. Pubmed 21771308

Honors and Awards
American Society for Virology: Global Video Challenge 3rd Place Winner   

​Nunya Chotiwan

Graduate Student
My research is focused on the impact of cellular metbolism on the replication and dissemination of DENV in its mosquito vector, Aedes aegypti. We have profiled the lipids and other metabolites, as well as proteins in mosquito midguts and salivary glands that are dysregulated by DENV2 at different times post infection using high-resolution mass spectrometry. Our next step is to identify and verify the cellular metabolic pathways required for successful DENV2 infection and transmission in Aedes mosquitoes. In addition, I am also working with human fatty acid synthase (FAS), a key enzyme in the lipid biosynthesis pathway which was shown to interact with nonstructural protein 3 (NS3) and is essential for DENV replication. We are interested in identifying the molecular mechanism behind FAS activity mediated by the FAS-NS3 interaction and developing small peptides from the interacting FAS domain as a DENV2 inhibitors.
2013 - Present; Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
2011 - 2013; M.S. Microbiology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
Masters Thesis: Molecular Determinants of Dengue Virus Type-2 Critical for Early Events in Antibody-Dependent Enhancement of Infection
2006 - 2010; B.Sc. Biology; Distinction program, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, Thailand
Undergraduate Thesis: Construction and Characterization of Recombinant Full-length DEN-2 Viruses Encoding Green Fluorescent Protein, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University 

Professional Associations
American Society of Virology
Thai Student Association at Colorado State University

  1. Nunya Chotiwan, John T. Roehrig, Jacob J. Schlessinger, Carol D. Blair, and Claire Y.-H.Huang. Molecular Determinants of Dengue Virus 2 Envelope Protein Important for Virus Entry in FcγRIIA-Mediated Antibody-Dependent Enhancement of Infection. Virology. 2014;456-457:238-46
  2. Vijittra Leardkamolkarn, Wipawan Sirigulpanit , Nunya Chotiwan, Supeecha Kumkate, Claire Y.-H. Huang. Development of Dengue type-2 virus replicons expressing GFP reporter gene in study of viral RNA replication. Virus Research. 2012;163(2):552-62

Rebekah Gullberg

Graduate Student
My work focuses on viral-host interactions between DENV and its human host. In particular, DENV causes a massive rearrangement of cellular membranes and alters lipid biosynthesis during infection. I am interested in how DENV modifies cells and the host enzymes it interacts with to accomplish these changes. More specifically I am interested in the unsaturated phospholipid biosynthesis pathway, which may be of significance during DENV infection. Unsaturated fatty acids, when incorporated into membrane phospholipids provide increased fluidity of membranes enhancing the assembly and function of membrane bound enzymes. Several of these enzymes are conserved from bacteria to mammals and are high profile therapeutic targets for obesity, hepatic steatosis and metabolic disease. Studying these enzymes in the context of viral infection represents a novel avenue for drug discovery with the potential of repurposing therapeutics as antivirals.
2013 - Present; Ph.D. candidate in Microbiology, Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Pathology, College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO
2012; M.S. Public Health Microbiology and Emerging Infectious Diseases, The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.
2008; B.A. Mathematics, Minors: Chemistry, Studio Art, Williamette University, Salem, OR
Honors and Awards
The Sigma Xi Grant-in-Aid of Research
Member of the Omega Chapter of Delta Omega (DO)
National Public Health Honorary Society
Williamette University Scholar
The Lilly Grant Student Research Award
  1. Oxidative Stress Regulates Flavivirus RNA Synthesis and Capping. Gullberg RC, Steel JJ, Moon SL, Soltani E, Geiss BJ. (Pending) PLoS Pathogens. 2014 

Katherine Menning

M.S.-B program Graduate
My research focuses on DENV-host interactions in the human host. Through a collaboration with Douglas J. LaCount (Purdue University) we have identified several host enzymes that interact with flavivirus proteins. Many of these enzymes are involved in lipid metabolism in the cell. I’m trying to determine the molecular mechanism behind the activity of these enzymes in the DENV life cycle.  

Irma Josefina Sanchez-Vargas

Ph.D., Research Scientist

My research interests include arbovirology and vector biology. I have extensive vector biology research experience. My past research has included investigations of virus transmission by mosquitoes and the vector’s innate immune response to alphavirus and flavivirus infections. I have worked with dengue viruses for more than 20 years. My research has provided significant insight into the understanding how arboviruses interact with their mosquito vectors. I’ve performed a considerable amount of vector competence studies in mosquitoes. Particularly, I’ve have conducted arthropod-borne virus (dengue, Sindbis, West Nile, Chikungunya, and La Crosse viruses) challenge studies in appropriate mosquito species and populations to determine virus replication efficiency in midguts and virus transmission potential via salivary gland infection and transmission assays. I have extensive training and experience working with mosquitoes and arboviruses in biosafety level 2 and 3 environments. I lead the day-to-day research activities in the BSL3 Virology suite and provide training for both US and foreign investigators in the use of these agents in the mosquito vector. My research efforts have generated DENV-resistant genetically modified mosquitoes, as we have extensively studied RNAi antiviral pathway responses in vectors. In addition to my virology and transgenics research, I have important expertise in the molecular biology of DNA and RNA  (including skills with PCR, DNA cloning, Northern and Southern blotting ) as well as cell culture, protein purification,  and immunostaining.   

Eleanor Howe

Veterinary Summer Scholar
University of Edinburgh
I spent the summer working with Jordan Steel, to determine the importance of central carbon metabolism during DENV infection of human cells. We utilized several commercially available inhibitors to block specific steps in the glycolysis / TCApathways and determine their impact of virus replication.
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