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Molecular Virology and Microbiology

Houston, Texas

BCM has 25 departments and more than 90 research and patient-care centers.
Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology
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Glossary-Emerging Infection and Bioterrorism

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Adjuvant - a substance that enhances the immune response to the antigen with which is it mixed.

Antibiotic - a compound that inhibits the growth and reproduction of bacteria. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

Antibody - a specialized protein produced by the immune system that helps destroy disease-causing organisms. An antibody is a component of humoral immunity. Antibodies can be effective defenders against both bacteria and viruses. An antibody must be made specifically for each pathogen.

Antigen - A protein or other substance capable of triggering an immune response.

Antiviral - a compound that inhibits the growth and reproduction of viruses.

Aptamer– short strands of DNA or RNA that are designed to bind to certain target molecules.

Attenuate – to reduce the virulence of.

Attomolar - one quintillionth (10-18) of a mole of a substance.

Bacterium - a class of microorganisms that are made of a single cell with a certain structure. While many bacteria are beneficial, some bacteria can cause disease. (plural, bacteria)

Biologics - a biological product used in medicine

Biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) - a specially designed, high-containment laboratory facility used for work with infectious disease agents that can cause severe disease or are potentially lethal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has established four levels of biosafety laboratory facility, with level 4 designated for use with the most hazardous agents.

CD4+ T cell - also known as a “helper” cell, a cell of the immune system that helps other immune system cells produce antibodies. CD4+ T cells are the cell type that are infected and destroyed by HIV.

Cell - the basic unit of all living things.

Cell-mediated immunity - part of the immune system in which specific immune system cells, such as cytotoxic T cells, directly attack infected cells.

Chromosome - one of a segment of DNA that together make up the genetic information of an organism. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes.

Clade – a group of organisms that includes all descendants of one common ancestor.

Cohort - group of individuals used in a study that have a statistical factor, such as age, in common.

Cytotoxic T cell - also known as “killer” T cells, a type of immune system cell that can directly attack infected cells.

Disseminate - to disperse or spread about widely.

DNA - deoxyribonucleic acid, the chemical structure that contains the genetic information of an organism. The double helical structure is made of two strands consisting of deoxyribose and phosphate and is held together by bonds between purine and pyrimidine bases which project inward from two chains and form the genetic code.

Enzyme - a protein that acts as a biological catalyst. Enzymes are necessary to produce chemical reactions within a cell.

Epidemic - a disease affecting a large number of individuals within a population, community, or region at the same time.

Epidemiologist - a medical scientist that studies the incidence, distribution, and control of disease in a population.

Eradication - the complete elimination of a disease.

Eukaryotes - organisms whose cells possess a membrane-bound structure called a nucleus that contains the genetic material (DNA).

H sectionGene - a sequence of genetic material that provides the information to make a specific protein.

Genome - the entire genetic information of an organism.

H sectionHeme– a small molecule that consists of an iron atom contained in the center of a large heterocyclic ring called a porphyrin. Heme is involved in many metabolic reactions that occur in the body and is sequestered by specific heme-binding proteins such as hemoglobin.

Humoral immunity - part of the immune system that provides immunity against disease-causing organisms in body fluids. The main functional unit of humoral immunity is an antibody.

Immune response – the body’s immune system response that defends against attacks from disease-causing agents. The body can produce two different immune responses –humoral immunity and cell-mediated immunity.

Immunity - the resistance to an infectious disease agent that can be developed by prior exposure to the pathogen or through vaccination.

Immunogen - a substance that produces an immune response.

Immunogenicity- the ability of an antigen to elicit an immune response

Macrophage - a cell of the immune system that functions as one of the body’s first defenders against disease-causing organisms. Macrophages can engulf and destroy pathogens.

Microorganism - also called microbe, an organism of microscopic size.

MicroRNA-A short piece of single-stranded RNA about 21 to 23 bases in length that regulates the expression of genes. MicroRNAs function by binding to a matching piece of messenger RNA that encodes a protein and decreasing the production of that protein

Mortality - the number of deaths in a given time or place.

Mucosal - relating to the mucous membranes of the body. These are sites where many important pathogens, such as influenza, enter the body.

H sectionNeuraminidase - a protein found on the surface of influenza viruses that is needed for the virus to exit the host cell and infect more cells. The action of this protein is inhibited by the class of antiviral drugs that includes the drug Tamiflu®. In the system using for naming influenza subtypes (H1N1, for example), the N stands for neuraminidase.

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Pandemic - a disease occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting a very high proportion of the population. This term is often used to describe large outbreaks of influenza that occur worldwide and cause a high rate of death.

Pathogen - an organism that can cause disease, such as a bacterium or a virus.

Pathogenic - capable of causing disease.

Pathogenesis - the mechanism by which a certain agent causes disease

Peptide – short chain of linked amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Phase I clinical trial - the first stage in testing new drugs or vaccines in humans. Phase I trials are performed on small numbers of people and are designed primarily to test the safety of the new drug and to obtain information about dosages. Drugs that pass phase I trials go on to trials that determine effectiveness and possible side effects and are tested on larger groups of people. If safety and effectiveness are demonstrated, the drugs or vaccines may become approved as treatments.

Placebo – an inert substance used in a controlled experiment to test the efficacy of another substance, such as a drug or a vaccine.

Plasmid - a circular segment of DNA that encodes a separate set of genes than those present in chromosomes. Plasmids are most often found in bacteria, but they are also useful to scientists as vectors.

Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) - a technique to amplify a single or few copies of a piece of DNA by several orders of magnitude, generating millions or more copies of a particular DNA sequence.

Positive-sense RNA - viral RNA that has the same base sequence as mRNA which allows it to function as a template for protein synthesis during viral replication

Protein - components of cells and viruses that play structural and functional roles in cells.

Reactogenicity – ability to cause an immunological reaction.

Reassortment – the recombination or mixing of the genetic material of viruses; may occur when two different influenza virus strains infect the same cell, resulting in the formation of a new influenza virus strain.

Recombinant - produced by genetic engineering.

RNA - ribo nucleic acid, a chemical structure that is related to DNA, but has only one strand and a somewhat different chemical composition. RNA performs a variety of functions in the cell and can act as a messenger to carry the genetic code from the DNA to other parts of the cell. RNA can also serve as the genetic material of some viruses.

Single nucleotide polymorphism - variation in a single base in the genetic code between different individuals of the same species.

Spore - a form of a microorganism, such as a bacterium, that is dormant and stable in the environment, but can become capable of reproducing after infecting an animal or person.

Toxin - a poison that produces illness by affecting bodily functions

Transcription - the process by which the genetic information encoded in DNA is copied into a complementary copy in RNA.

Vaccination - injection of a weakened or mild form of a disease-causing agent to produce immunity.

Vaccine - a preparation of killed or weakened microorganisms that is administered to produce or increase immunity to a particular disease.

Vector - a segment of genetic material that is used as a vehicle to introduce specific genes into cells.

Virulence - the ability to cause rapid and severe disease.

Virus - a microscopic particle that is made up of genetic material (either DNA or RNA) and protein that can replicate only inside living cells.

Virus-like particle - a particle assembled from multiple copies of the capsid protein that, like a virus, can produce an immune response, but unlike a virus, is not infectious because it does not contain genetic material

Zoonosis - a disease that is transmitted from animals to humans. The incidence of zoonoses (plural) increases when humans exist in close contact with animals and when humans encounter animals in new geographical regions.