Going Viral

Katri Thiele poses in the Swiss Alps.

Katri Thiele '15 found time to hike the Alps when she wasn't wrangling giant viruses at the University of Zurich's Institute of Physiology.

by Tony Moore

Katri Thiele '15 spent nine weeks in Zurich this summer working on a biology research project, and if you're wondering how she liked it, this sums it up pretty well: "Zurich is the coolest city in the world," she says, still glowing from her time there.

Thiele was one of only three American students to take part in the project—the other two were from Stanford and Johns Hopkins universities—and her study of what are known as giant viruses took her into the labs of the Institute of Physiology at the University of Zurich.

These giant viruses, which are relatively new on the virus scene, end up with some pretty odd names—from the puzzling Cafeteria virus to the ominous Mega virus and Pandora virus—and Thiele spent her summer with the Moumou virus.

"People couldn't take me seriously when I said 'Moumou virus' and told them about my project," she says. Despite its disarming singsong name, the Moumou virus represents a type of virus she describes as "advanced"—and they're everywhere: from the soil to the ocean.

"Viruses are usually more simple cells, infecting a host," Thiele continues. "But these giant viruses encode for a lot of proteins and enzymes involved in metabolic processes that no viruses have been found to have previously." Before you put on latex gloves and douse yourself with hand sanitizer, Thiele clarifies an important point: "They're not harmful to humans, as far as we know yet," she says. ("In science you always have to say something like 'yet.' ") 

Thiele's time in Switzerland was funded by the U.S. embassy to Switzerland via a program called Think Swiss, and outside the lab, she managed to explore the region. "On a hike in the Alps, a family friend brought an Alpine horn and played it," she says with a laugh. "It was the most Swiss experience possible." 

Zurich is a long way from Carlisle in a lot of respects, but Thiele credits her time at Dickinson with paving the way to these great internships. "I love everything about Dickinson," she says. "I never could have gotten to Zurich without everything I've learned and the professors who supported me." 

Read more:

Biology internship information

Employment and internship stories, 2013

Published Oct. 11, 2013