Enrico Barrozo Q&A WITH FALL 2020 GRADUATE AND 2018 berns award winner

Enrico Barrozo, PhD, has always found viruses fascinating. During his time with the UF Genetics Institute, he focused on developing this passion for virology into a robust area of productive research and collaboration with his peers. He designed and tested novel gene therapies with the goal of inhibiting herpes reactivation. By using animal models of pathogenesis and innovative genetic technologies, Barrozo has been able to examine and qualify the complex gene regulation that herpesvirus use to maintain a lifelong infection.

Barrozo continues to promote diversity in the sciences through his participation, and has been a part of the McNair Scholars, McKnight Predoctoral Fellowship, and Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society programs. He is thankful he found his vocation when he did and he looks forward to continuing his career with a postdoctoral associate position at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

Barrozo presenting his research.
What are your primary PhD interests?

"Although there have been many advancements in molecular genetics and microbiology, infectious diseases remain a major health and socioeconomic burden in the United States and abroad. Viruses are obligate parasites, most of which are cleared by a healthy human immune system. However, there are many cases where the young, elderly, poor, and immune-compromised communities are at risk for severe and deadly disease. Technically speaking, viruses do not fulfill the classical criteria of a living organism, yet many viruses show a high capacity for persistence and perseverance. Emerging from a Ph.D. program with expertise in genetics, genomics, and virology are in high demand, especially in 2020."

What interests you most about your field?

"Arguably the most successful viruses are the Herpesviridae, which all have co-evolved with humans for millions of years and developed mechanisms to co-exist. These viruses remain latent, establishing a dormant infection for the life of the host, evading the immune response, and maintaining the ability to periodically reactivate lytic programs in order to transmit to another host. This host-pathogen equilibrium is stable for herpesviruses, but for emerging viruses like Ebola, Zika, and SARS-CoV-2, the equilibrium is disrupted leading to drastic mitigation measures. The evolution of viruses to limit symptoms to improve transmissibility is dynamic and fascinating."

David Bloom, PhD, and Enrico Barrozo, PhD.
How would you describe your research and research goals?

"In the lab of Dr. David Bloom, my dissertation research encompassed both basic science and translational approaches to elucidate the host and viral determinants of herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) pathogenesis and reactivation. To that end, I was fortunate to collaborate with excellent researchers around the country. From outside institutions, I worked with Dr. Leonardo D’Aiuto (Dino) at the University of Pittsburg, who has developed a neuronal cell system derived from human induced-pluripotent stem cells. Dr. Seth Frietze and his student Mike Mariani at the University of Vermont have been excellent bioinformatics collaborators working on a single cell RNA-seq project. Dr. Donna Neumann at the University of Wisconsin-Madison conducted our rabbit ocular induced-reactivation experiments. In addition, I benefitted from working with other members of the Molecular Genetics and Microbiology (MGM) Department including Dr. Rolf Renne, Dr. Lauren Gay, and Dan Stribling, who developed qCLASH, a method for discovering microRNA-mRNA interactions."

How can your research impact others?

"A primary initiative of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is to support investigations into the biology of pathogens and mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions. During my graduate training, I have built a strong foundation in utilizing basic science approaches, animal models of pathogenesis, as well as cutting-edge technologies to better understand the pathogenic processes of herpesviruses. Furthermore, I have applied this knowledge to design and test novel gene therapies with the goal of inhibiting herpes reactivation."

Which of your academic accomplishments are you most proud of thus far?

"As a member of a group traditionally underrepresented in the academy, I have been active in promoting diversity through participation in the McNair Scholars, McKnight Predoctoral Fellowship, and Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society programs. These communities are dedicated to promoting diversity and have taught me the importance of promoting equity in education for underprivileged students as well as leadership skills to navigate the inter-personal relationships with a philosophy of emotional intelligence."

What are your goals moving forward, now that you have graduated?

"I have accepted a postdoctoral associate position at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. I am interested in developing a basic science and translational research program investigating the contributions of congenital viruses in: 1) the development of the neonatal immune system, 2) maternal immune-tolerance, and 3) how these host-pathogen interactions affect health outcomes. The research in laboratory of Dr. Kersti Aagaard encompasses a myriad of aspects related to the maternal-fetal microbiome, including environmental and genetic effects on fetal development. In addition, from my interactions with Dr. Aagaard and her colleagues, I have found that she is brilliant, a phenomenal mentor, and productive leader that would guide me towards my goals of establishing independence. The Aagaard Lab is the perfect environment for me expand my knowledge and to apply the virology and genomics experience I have, towards understanding the contributions of viruses to the dynamic materno-fetal milieu."

Barrozo and his family at their new home in Houston, TX.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue similar academic interests?

"Less than 1% of the population has a doctorate degree. I had never met anyone with a Ph.D. until college and few professors looked like me. Once I became interested in pursuing research, I learned as much as I could about what this degree would do for me. In essence, a Ph.D. program enhances critical thinking, encourages the utilization of resources, and instructs how to ask a question. Given enough time and resources, a Ph.D. could figure out almost anything. I highly recommend pursuing higher education because if I had known a Ph.D. was possible for someone like me, I would have found my vocation sooner." ∎

Frequency of word usage in Barrozo's dissertation.