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Influenza A viruses pose a major public health risk from seasonal epidemics and sporadic pandemics. The Lakdawala lab studies the molecular properties contributing to the epidemiological success of influenza A viruses to better predict future pandemics. The two main areas of research in her lab are exploring the dynamics of influenza viral RNA assembly and defining properties necessary for efficient airborne transmission of influenza viruses.

Influenza A viruses contain eight single-stranded RNA segments, and one copy of all eight must be packaged for production of an infectious virus. The segmented nature of the virus promotes a high degree of viral evolution in nature through reassortment, a process where genetic material is exchanged between two viruses that co-infect the same cell. To understand reassortment potential between influenza viruses, we must first understand how all eight segments are packaged during influenza virus assembly. The Lakdawala lab combines biochemical and sophisticated microscopy techniques to understand where, when, and how assembly of influenza genomic RNA occurs. This research has broad implications for understanding the intracellular requirements behind reassortment of influenza viruses and may lead to the development of new antiviral targets.

Airborne transmission of influenza viruses is critical for rapid spread of the virus during epidemics and pandemics. Lakdawala and colleagues have established a method to study the viability of influenza viruses in expelled aerosols and droplets at different environmental conditions, as well as the airborne transmissibility of influenza viruses in the ferret model. These studies will define the viral and environmental properties that promote the spread of influenza.

Combining these two areas of research, Lakdawala will be able to develop a comprehensive surveillance system to determine the pandemic potential of circulating zoonotic influenza viruses, which will be useful in all areas of pandemic preparedness.