Balla Group: Organismal Infection Biology

Molecular and computational approaches to discover and domesticate viruses in zebrafish.

These viruses provide new opportunities for investigating the evolution and function of the vertebrate immune system across multiple scales of organization. The relatively small size of zebrafish provides an opportunity to dissect antiviral activities in all cell types at once. Our group is working to integrate multiple single-cell modalities (sequencing, imaging, etc.) with infected zebrafish to comprehensively chart the genetic and cellular networks that process and produce antiviral immunity in vertebrates.

Keir Balla, Group Leader

Keir grew up along the Puget Sound shoreline and graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in Biology. Working as a technician in David Traver’s group at UC San Diego, Keir used zebrafish to investigate the development and function of vertebrate immune cells. He then joined Emily Troemel’s lab for his Ph.D. work to study the genetics of infection using a charismatic worm and its co-evolving pathogens.

This work forged his interest in pursuing a greater understanding of evolutionary infection biology with common laboratory organisms made more wild by their microbes. As a postdoc at the University of Utah in Nels Elde’s group, Keir designed a new approach for infection surveillance that led to the discovery of the first known naturally occurring viruses of zebrafish.

The Balla Group will integrate these viruses within a research framework built around the exceptional strengths of zebrafish for tackling organismal phenomena. The team is launching from this platform of virus discovery and experimentation to reveal fundamental organizing principles in the vertebrate immune system and provide unique contributions to our understanding of antiviral defense and disease.