Free public lecture, 'Viruses: Friends or Foes?', set for Feb. 12

A free public lecture titled "Viruses: Friends or Foes?" will be given from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 12, in room 100 of the Thomas Building on Penn State's University Park campus. The lecture will be delivered by Mary Poss, professor of biology and of veterinary and biomedical sciences at Penn State. The event is the fourth of six lectures in the 2011 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Epidemic: Infectious Disease on a Changing Planet." No registration is required.

Poss will describe how new or newly discovered viruses are presenting profound challenges to human and animal health. She will present fascinating new research about the interactions of viruses with other microbes and with the infected host to illustrate the changing complexity of infectious disease in the 21st Century. This surprising research is revealing that, while some viruses cause illness, others have a beneficial role in the health of the host.

Poss' research focuses on the molecular genetics of viruses and on interactions between a virus and its host. Her work is helping to reveal new knowledge about which specific features promote or constrain viral infection in new host species, why infection with a specific virus causes disease in some species but not in others, and how co-infection with several different viruses affects the dynamics of each virus.

Poss' research includes studies of cross-species infections using feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) -- similar to the human-immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -- in domestic and wild cats as a model system. By studying domestic cats infected with FIV from cougars, Poss seeks to understand how the host responds to a cross-species viral infection. Interestingly, domestic cats develop an immunodeficiency syndrome when infected with FIV, but wild cats -- such as cougars and African lions -- often are infected with strains of FIV without developing disease symptoms. Results of Poss's studies are revealing new knowledge about how a host-specific RNA-editing enzyme disables many of the genes of the feline immunodeficiency virus and protects cats from both cross-species infection and, subsequently, infection with their own FIV strain.

Her research accomplishments have been recognized with a National Research Service Award in 1988, a Clinical Investigator Award from the National Institutes of Health in 1994, a Center for Aids Research New Investigator Award from the University of Washington in 1995, a Fellowship from the institute of Advanced Studies in Berlin in 2010, and numerous investigator-initiated grants from both public and private institutions. She is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Microbiology, the American Society of Virology, and the Wildlife Disease Association.

In addition to publishing numerous scientific papers on topics ranging from biochemistry to conservation biology, some of her other contributions to the scientific community include serving as a grant reviewer for the Montana Academy of Science, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the AAAS-First Award, the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust. She also has served as a reviewer for many scientific journals, including Science, Conservation Biology, and the Journal of Virology.

Prior to joining Penn State in 2006, Poss was an assistant professor and associate professor in both the Division of Biological Sciences and the Division of Wildlife Biology at the University of Montana from 1998 to 2006. She has been a clinical assistant professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine since 1999. She was a senior fellow at the University of Washington from 1994 to 1998 and was a postdoctoral fellow and senior staff scientist at ICOS Corporation in Washington from 1990 to 1993. She completed a residency in anatomical pathology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, from 1985 to 1987. She completed a veterinary internship with the Navajo Nation in Tsaile, Arizona, and the U.S. Sheep Experimental Station in Dubois, Idaho, in 1984. She also worked as a veterinarian in Rushford, New York, in 1984.

Poss earned a bachelor's degree in zoology at Duke University in 1975 and a master's degree in biochemistry at the University of New Hampshire in 1979. She earned a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine at Ohio State University in 1984 and a doctoral degree in experimental pathology at Colorado State University in 1990.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science is a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science that is designed for the enjoyment and education of residents of the Central Pennsylvania area and beyond. The 2011 series features Penn State faculty members in the Eberly College of Science and the College of Agricultural Sciences who participate in collaborative research in Penn State's Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information by telephone at (814) 863-0901 or by e-mail at More information about the Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, including archived recordings of previous lectures and a list of other lectures in the 2011 series, is on the web at

Last Updated January 09, 2015