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Molecular Virology of RNA Viruses

Course 2016-2017

Admission requirements

  • Students should be familiar with the structure and function of DNA, RNA and proteins including basic knowledge about their biosynthesis (DNA replication, RNA transcription and protein translation). To obtain the required level students should have studied the relevant parts of a major textbook in molecular biology like for instance “Molecular Biology of the Cell” by Alberts et al. (6th edition; Chapter 4; DNA, Chromosomes, and Genomes; Chapter 5; DNA Replication, Repair and Recombination; Chapter 6; How Cells Read the Genome; from DNA to Protein).
  • Students should have a general theoretical knowledge about manipulating cells and DNA. To obtain the required level students should have studied the relevant parts of a major textbook. The following sections from chapter 8 of “Molecular Biology of the Cell” can serve as an example of the required study material: “Isolating cells and Growing them in Culture” and “Analyzing and Manipulating DNA”.
  • Students should be familiar with the general concepts of virology as they are taught in the LUMC course Host-Pathogen Interaction I and summarized in Chapter 14 section 1 and 6 of “Biochemistry” by Campbell and Farell.
  • Students should be familiar with the use of basic laboratory equipment like (micro)pipettes, electrophoresis equipment, (micro)centrifuges, biosafety cabinets, etc.
  • Some experiments in the course involve the handling of (small amounts of) radioactivity. Students should therefore have obtained a certificate demonstrating that they have general knowledge about radioisotopes and their use in a laboratory setting (RA safety course level B5 or higher).

Recommended knowledge:

  • The practical part of the course involves handling of infectious material (viruses) and genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Therefore general knowledge and skills in how to handle infectious material and GMOs is recommended. The required knowledge and skills can be obtained in the LUMC course “Infection and Immunity in Practice” or an equivalent course in (medical) microbiology.


Period: October 24 – November 18, 2016
RNA viruses constitute a major group of pathogens and can infect all living organisms, including humans. They are unique, not only for having an RNA genome, but also because of their high mutation frequency, evolutionary potential, diverse replication mechanisms, and intricate strategies to exploit the infrastructure of the infected host cell. This Master course focuses on the molecular biology and the different strategies that RNA viruses use for their genome replication, gene expression and virion production. A significant part of the course consists of practical work. In this part of the course students will become familiar with various virological and molecular techniques to detect, quantify and purify viruses and learn methods to study viral genes and gene products. Students will work in couples and the materials generated in one experiment will be required for the next experiment.

Although the emphasis is on viruses with a RNA genome, general virological principles will also be discussed. A textbook and workgroups will guide the students through the theoretical part of the course. In addition, a reader containing protocols and selected review articles will have to be studied. A number of seminars by guest speakers are scheduled throughout the course to illustrate some of the major topics in current virology. At the end of the course the students will have to present the outcome of the experiments and have to take an (open book) exam covering the textbook, the experiments and selected topics from the literature.

This course will particularly work on:
Research competences:
Integrating different biomedical disciplines, practical skills, recording, organizing and analyzing data
Professional competences:
Commitment, motivation and drive, collaborating with peers, respecting the rules of the group.

Course objectives

The student is able:

  • to describe the molecular aspects of the RNA virus replication cycle (virus entry, gene expression, replication, particle assembly and release).
  • to describe the techniques that are used to detect, purify and quantitate virus particles and to study viral proteins and/or nucleic acids.
  • to design experiments (including controls) that yield information on various aspects of the replication cycle and structure of RNA viruses.
  • to design a model (on aspects) of an RNA virus replication cycle or virus particle structure based on experimental results.
  • to describe the characteristics and potential use of different RNA virus-based expression vectors.

Mode of instruction

Self- study assignments, work groups, practicals, demonstration experiments, seminars, presentations by students, written exam.

Assessment method

  • A. Study performance (motivation, independence, and participation in practicals and discussion)
  • B. Presentation on experimental work
  • C. Written examination

Final mark = 0.3A + 0.2B + 0.5C
Further information about the assessment can be found on the Blackboardsite of this course.