UGA scientist leads coronavirus research on Griffin campus
Back in January when she heard COVID-19 had been identified, Malak Esseili stopped taking her children along on trips to the grocery store. She also called her sisters and told them to begin wearing infinity scarfs they could easily use as makeshift masks while in public.
As an assistant professor of food virology at the University of Georgia Center for Food Safety in Griffin, Esseili has been focused on studying the microbial ecology of human viral pathogens (such as human noroviruses), and now her work includes the emerging viral pathogen SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).
Esseili came to UGA in March 2019 after eight years with the Food Animal Health Research Program at The Ohio State University (OSU) where she studied with Qiuhong Wang and OSU Distinguished Research Professor Linda Saif, who has conducted research on coronaviruses and other zoonotic viruses for decades.
While COVID-19 is a new — or novel — virus, coronaviruses are not new. Named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, human coronaviruses were first identified in the late 1960s. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are seven coronaviruses that can infect humans. They include Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), severe acute respiratory syndrome-CoV and the new SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
There are also coronaviruses that affect animals, including bovines, poultry, cats, dogs and other animals.