5 Questions with Our New Editor-in-Chief

Get to know our founding Editor-in-Chief, Dr. El-Sayed M. Abdelwhab, as he answers 5 questions about his research experience and becoming involved with the journal.

What is your research background?

I studied veterinary medicine in Egypt, where I worked as a field veterinarian and was fascinated by infectious diseases. My interest in research started with my Master’s degree as a junior researcher at the Animal Health Research Institute. With the global spread of avian influenza viruses in 2003-2005, I fell in love with these amazing tiny creatures. I was awarded a doctoral scholarship from the DAAD to do a PhD in epidemiology, diagnosis and vaccine efficacy against influenza viruses at the Freie-Universität-Berlin in cooperation with the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (FLI) in Germany. At the FLI, I received postdoctoral awards from Alexander-von-Humboldt foundation and the German Research Foundation (DFG). Since 2019, in my laboratory at the FLI, with the outstanding infrastructure and cooperation with highly qualified researchers, I lead a research group to study the molecular mechanisms for the adaptation of influenza viruses, interspecies transmission and development and evaluation of vaccines. One of the most effective tools for the success of influenza viruses in adaptation is its ‘unstable’ segmented genome. Influenza virus is a ‘master of mutability’ and spontaneous mutations may enable the virus adaptation in new hosts and resistance to antivirals and vaccines. Upon co-infection of host cells, two influenza viruses may exchange genes (i.e. reassortment) to produce, theoretically, 254 new genotypes with unpredictable features. While some of these new viruses may disappear unnoticed, others could cause pandemics resulting in tens of millions of casualties. Therefore, we are conducting research to understand the threat for evolution of influenza viruses with panzootic and pandemic potential and to develop preventive measures.

What is your favorite thing about research?

If I have to choose one, then it will be the ‘understanding of life’ on a tiny scale. These ‘wow’ or ‘aha’ moments in research are overwhelming when we discover or unravel how viruses replicate, interact, spread and adapt, and how they resist and persist. It is impressive to see how viruses carefully select the suitable candidates from highly diversified quasispecies and evolve particularly under selective pressure (e.g. antivirals, vaccines, climate change, new host factors, etc.). The smart ‘negotiation’ of many viruses with the host to reach an acceptable compromise for co-existence is an amazing lesson for life.

What is the best advice you can give to early career researchers?

Consider the details and always remember the big picture. Reading, discussion and time management are keys for success. Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and follow your gut feeling, but you should know the Dunning-Kruger confidence curve.

What are you most looking forward to in your role as Editor-in-Chief?

I’m very much looking forward to reading a lot of new and exciting science. While my own research is mainly on influenza, virology is much more than that. We’ve faced a pandemic and viruses are everywhere, from villages to metropoles. To prevent and better control the next pandemic, it is important to analyze and identify the knowledge gaps and demand to better understand e.g. virus reservoir, pathogenesis, development and distribution of vaccines, and develop effective antivirals. I want this journal to cover the full scope of problems and solutions in virology and virus research. It is important to me that the content of the journal reflects the global nature of viruses.

What are you excited to commission and why should authors submit to our journal?

As a first step, I'd like to commission reviews and opinion articles on the current state of all aspects of virology, including viruses and their micro and macroenvironment as well as the most promising intervention strategies. I'm also interested to hear from the scientific community about your ideas on what we should be publishing, so always feel free to send us any ideas, suggestions and abstracts. It is my goal to establish npj Viruses as a destination of choice and a respected source for all research in our broad field. Our authors will be able to access the editorial quality of the Nature Portfolio, with competitive review timelines, and have their work published in a modern, progressive, and, most importantly, Open Access journal, so that everyone has access to the research.