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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Ralph Baric

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

Dr. Baric currently conducts research on coronavirus and norovirus (human calicivirus) replication, pathogenesis and vaccine development. Noroviruses are important causes of severe epidemic gastroenteritis in infants, children and adults, worldwide and coronaviruses are emerging pathogens that cause severe lower respiratory tract disease in humans. Both are positive strand RNA viruses. Among his many notable contributions to the scientific literature, Dr. Barics’ laboratory received considerable renown for establishing a novel reverse genetic system for several coronaviruses including mouse hepatitis virus, transmissible gastroenteritis virus, and the recently identified the highly pathogenic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The method is not only extremely rapid and provides genetic approaches to manipulate the virus genome for vaccines and therapeutics, including the development of attenuated SARS-CoVs that can be used directly as vaccines or as seed stocks for killed vaccines. Importantly, these contributions allow for detailed genetic analysis of the coronavirus genome and proteome. In addition, the approach also allows for the systematic assembly of very large microbial genomes in the millions of base pairs in length, allowing for synthetic reconstruction of microbial and viral genomes de novo. The technique is widely applicable to viral and microbial genomes and affords DNA synthesis companies and approach to assemble large synthetic DNAs in vitro. Using noroviruses as models, Dr. Baric has also demonstrated that ABH histo-blood group antigens likely function as receptors for Norwalk virus docking and entry. More importantly, his group has demonstrated that human polymorphic genes, like the fucosyltransferase gene (Fut 2) and other A, B and O blood group genes, that regulate ABH expression function as susceptibility alleles for Norwalk virus infection. These milestone contributions have forged entirely new lines of investigation in the norovirus and coronavirus research communities.

Brief Biography

Dr. Ralph Baric received his BS degree from North Carolina State University in 1977. He obtained his PhD from the Department of Microbiology at North Carolina State University in 1982, studying alphavirus-host interaction and pathogenesis under the direction of Dr. Robert E. Johnston. He continued his postdoctoral training on coronavirus replication and pathogenesis under the direction of Dr. Michael M.C. Lai at the University of Southern California. In 1996, Dr. Baric was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Parasitology and Laboratory Practice and is currently a professor in the Departments of Epidemiology, and Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During his early training, Dr. Baric was a Harvey Weaver Scholar for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and an Established Investigator for the American Heart Association, awards associated with his studies focusing on coronavirus replication, cross species transmission, persistence, evolution and pathogenesis. He is currently a member of the editorial board of Journal of Virology, has served as a reviewer in many NIH study sections, has been a consultant for WHO, CDC and NIH, and has served on various institutional recombinant DNA review committees. Dr. Baric has published over 70 peer-reviewed manuscripts including some in high profile journals like Science, Proceedings for the National Academy of Science and Nature Medicine and his research efforts are supported by several research grants from the National Institutes of Health.