Balla 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, he used zebrafish to investigate the development and function of vertebrate immune cells. Balla 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, Balla designed a new approach for infection surveillance that led to the discovery of the first known naturally occurring viruses of zebrafish. Balla is integrating these viruses within a research framework built around the exceptional strengths of zebrafish for tackling organismal phenomena. The Balla Lab 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.