There were roughly 160 known mutations at the time of the boot camp, according to Dyszel. With molecular visualization tools such as PyRosetta, FoldIT and the PDB, the group successfully tracked all 160 mutations and pinpointed them in the protein structure of Nsp5.
For Martin, seeing researchers from across the country come together at the boot camp made her excited for her future as a biochemist. “It inspired me to continue on my path to become part of my own research team,” she said. “It opened my mind up to the thought that, maybe one day, I could be on the other end of the screen teaching a younger generation about the epic COVID-19 pandemic.”
Seeing science move so quickly—and be part of it, such as working with samples that had come out of London the week prior—was something Roberts found exhilarating. “We were looking at something that someone the week before had been tested for in the doctor’s office,” she said. “It was surreal in a way. I felt a bit more in control during a time when everyone is feeling powerless.”
Dyszel agreed. “When the pandemic began, I was initially very stressed and worried,” she said. Completing the boot camp made her feel more relieved—empowered even—as she learned more about the protease responsible for the pandemic. “With every piece of data found, and every step forward that we took, I felt more and more hopeful that one day a small molecule drug or vaccine will be made,” she said. “This boot camp showed me that every day researchers are getting closer to beating COVID-19.”
When did you realize that COVID-19 would have a significant impact in the U.S.?
DR. REBECCA ROBERTS: “I think at the start of March, as we were moving into spring break. Ursinus students and my own children were still in school. I had some travel planned to attend a conference in California in April, and I was deciding whether to attend, as it required airplane travel. I was also supposed to bring several students to a conference in Philadelphia at the end of March to present their research. I told them I would support whatever decision they made in terms of attending the event. I think that is when I realized that life in the U.S. and everywhere was really going to change. Both conferences ultimately moved to fully virtual formats, so the decision was made for all of us.”
BRITNEY DYSZEL ’22: “Back in March, I didn't think COVID would become so significant to the United States. Ursinus had just ended for spring break, and I expected to go back. Halfway through spring break, we were told that classes would resume a week later than normal. At that point, I still was not that convinced, or maybe I was in denial. The moment I got the email saying we would not return at all that semester is when I realized the impact COVID-19 was going to have on the United States. I thought everything would resolve by May or June because most viruses are seasonal, but here we are in the fall and COVID-19 is still devastating the globe. As unfortunate and scary as that is, I know that countless research teams, universities and companies across the world are working toward a treatment every day. The COVID-19 boot camp proved this to me.”
KAILEY MARTIN ’21: “It’s a moment I’ll never forget. Our softball team was is Florida for spring training in March, and after playing two games in the morning, we boarded the bus and our coach told us that our season was suspended. None of us ever thought it would happen to us. It was one of those things that keeps happening to other people, but you think, ‘No, that’s never going to happen to me’—until it does. Playing on that team was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and we played our hearts out in each and every one of the games we had that week. It was such a sobering experience hearing that it was all taken away in an instant, but it serves as a reminder to live life to the fullest each and every day.”