Certain viruses, like HIV, use a mechanism called programmed -1 ribosomal frameshifting to control gene expression (which genes are expressed and when). Viruses need a specific ratio of structural to non-structural proteins to form a mature viral particle that can go on to infect another cell. The Found in Translation stream studies different viruses predicted to use this mechanism. Our goal is to confirm whether the viral sequences promote frameshifting and whether we can mutate the sequences to eliminate frameshifting.


The Found in Translation stream focuses on human and animal viruses for which there are no vaccines or treatments. For example, the MMR vaccine (against measles, mumps, and rubella) and FluMist® (nasal spray vaccine against the flu) are live attenuated vaccines. This means that the viruses that cause the diseases were weakened to develop the vaccine. Thus, vaccinated people develop antibodies against the virus without feeling sick. Our goal is to determine whether the viruses studied use frameshifting so we can target this mechanism to weaken the virus for future vaccine development.


Students first learn basic laboratory skills, such as micropipetting and aseptic technique. Student teams then start the molecular cloning phase of their research project, while being trained on DNA purification, restriction enzyme digestion, gene fragment assembly, gel electrophoresis, and bacterial transformation. The products of the cloning phase are tested in human cell culture. During the second half of the research project, students learn how to work in a biosafety level 2 environment, maintain cells in culture, cell line transfection, and to perform dual-luciferase assays. Throughout their time in the stream, students also develop science communication skills as they prepare collaborative research proposals and present their research results to others in a poster presentation.

University of Maryland

Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost

The First-Year Innovation & Research Experience


Dr. Patrick Killion

Director of Discovery-Based Learning

Email: pkillion@umd.edu

Tel: 301-405-0057