I have completed my first year of my PhD! There have been many ups and downs while trying to understand how covert baculovirus infections are maintained in their lepidopteran hosts. These infections are fascinating as so little is known about them: Where do they hide? Is there any effect on the host? How do they become activated to cause disease outbreaks?
I have been in the Virology Department of Wageningen University and Research for a whole year now. This was my first time out of South Africa, and I could not have asked for a better experience. This despite arriving during Corona times when lab access was restricted and I didn’t meet many of my colleagues until a few months after arrival! The Netherlands is a wonderful country – especially if you like cycling in the rain (I don’t, but it has been an interesting experience). I have settled in now, cycling like a pro (not quite, but I haven’t fallen in a while), greatly expanding my winter wardrobe, and feeling at home in the lab. Now I’ve had the chance to travel to Paris, France and Aveiro, Portugal for training, not only increasing my scientific knowledge, but also exposing me to different labs, and increasing my confidence when it comes to travel. My next stop is Valencia, where I will have a 9 month secondment where I continue working with covert infections.
As far as research goes, I spent the last year doing a lot of learning and troubleshooting. This project is definitely not an easy one, but the process of figuring out the next steps has been fascinating. The intricacies of covert infections can be studied from a number of directions, therefore I have had the chance to learn many new techniques, including CRISPR editing, cell culture, qPCR and RNA work. Currently I’m working on investigating which stress factors can cause baculovirus lytic cycle activation in a few different species of Lepidoptera, as well as working on identifying the sRNA profile of covertly infected versus overtly infected Spodoptera exigua.
I’ve followed some very interesting courses over the last year, ranging from R courses and command line based Bioinformatics courses, to a course on understanding Dutch culture. Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to assist with the practical component of WUR course called Fundamental and Applied Virology. Through this, I discovered I really enjoy interacting with students. I hope to be able to help out with more courses, and perhaps take a lecture or two. It’s a daunting prospect, but I think it is something I will enjoy.
The Insect Doctors PhD programme has changed my life. It is a wonderful experience, and I cannot wait to see what the next three years hold (hopefully some publishable results).