Isabella Eckerle

Position: Associate Professor, Hôpitaux universitaires de Genève, Switzerland

Research focus: Emerging viruses

What do you love about viruses?
That they are simple in terms of their composition, and at the same time so complicated! And that we can still discover so many new characteristics and there is so much knowledge still to be gained!

On what topic could you give a 30-minute presentation without any preparation?
Emerging viral diseases and how anthropogenic changes increase the risk of viral spillovers

What is your favourite way to spend a day off?
Hiking in the French Alps, then spending the evening with a good book and a glass of wine on the sofa

If you could create a new invention, what would it be?
A tool to study ancient RNA, to be able to learn more about the ancestors of our present-day viruses. Unfortunately, I think it will remain a dream – or maybe not? Who knows what will be possible one day!

What is the coolest thing about your research?
Working in emerging viruses means that we have to be ready to study a new virus at any time, adapt our research & public health questions to quickly evolving knowledge. Also to know that new viruses will never stop to surprise us – which means that often established paradigms needs to revised! Of course the same aspect is also a challenge – but it also ensures that we constantly have to stay flexible and alert, and be ready to start new collaborations with researchers outside of our field. Working in emerging viruses is very interdisciplinary, which I enjoy a lot!

What was your most surprising scientific finding?
One of my most exciting projects was the isolation of a new coronavirus from camels, which we found to be the ancestor of one of our common cold coronaviruses . Although it is genetically close to the human virus, it is not capable of replicating in human airway cells anymore – for me it has highlights how little we know even about endemic human viruses, and how important it is that we translate genomic findings into a phenotypic assessment!

Which scientific topic (outside of your field of research) do you think should have more scientific attention?
How climate change will impact human disease (not only infectious diseases but also non-communicable diseases) – and how important diagnostics are!

If you had the option to advise a younger version of yourself, what would that be?
Don’t worry too much about a strategic career path, as long as you follow your passion, you will be fine!

Is there anything else you would like to share with other EVBC members?
Do mot miss our symposium on emerging viruses from December 7-9, 2022 in Geneva and online: “Covid-19 and beyond: Emerging viral diseases and their public health impact”