When HIV infects human cells, it manages the sneaky feat of employing its own enemy.
The virus creates tiny proteins that hijack human cells and distract them from their usual work. “Basically,” says Christopher Lim’12, “HIV tricks our cells into being little virus factories.”
Lim—a Ph.D. candidate in the molecular biophysics and biochemistry department at Yale—is trying to figure out how this happens. Working in the lab of Yong Xiong, he is studying how HIV uses its viral proteins to evade the defenses of the human body.
“The terms we use is host-virus interaction,” he says. Specifically, he is trying to determine the three-dimensional structure of the viral proteins.
Lim credits an Amherst biochemistry class and its professor, Sheila Jaswal, as his main influences in choosing this area of study. He says the junior-level course taught him that, whether in basic biology research or in drug design, it’s essential to understand the structures of proteins. “That class informed the way I think about biology,” he says.
His Amherst thesis project with Anthony Bishop also sparked his interest in structural biology. Now in his second year at Yale, Lim is part of the Medical Research Scholars Program, in which Ph.D. students in the basic sciences take extra courses—similar to those taken by first-year medical students—and seminars with doctors and medical students.