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First impressions of a South African student working in Geneva as part of Swiss South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP)

Author: Megan Druce - 2014-10-07


I have been working at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) in Geneva for just over a week now and what an amazing place to be! Geneva is a great city with old and magnificent buildings and the public transport is like no other. I must admit, seeing buses powered by electrical cables was quite a first-world moment for me! And the mountains are beautiful; people are right when they say that every moment in Geneva is a picture perfect moment.


Walking into the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) on my first day was a daunting experience and I would be lying if I said I was not nervous! But it turns out I had no reason to be. Everyone was very friendly and accommodating and welcomed me with open arms.

I started a MSc as part of the SSAJRP and NRF program under the supervision of Prof. Tulio de Oliveira and Prof. Paula Sommer. This involve a collaboration with SIB in Geneva. The group I am working at SIB focus their efforts on building a comprehensive database that annotates all known information pertaining to viruses. This group has set up a website, ViralZone, which offers readers insight into the workings of different viruses and species, including their life cycle, host-virus interactions and viral proteins.

Beautiful and scientifically accurate diagrams are also made by this group to help readers not only understand the information given, but visualize these interactions. The ViralZone group is made up of Philippe Le Mercier, Patrick Masson and Chantal Hulo- and myself for two months! They have graciously included me in their tight-knit group and have taught me so much- and it has only been a week!

What we as a group will be focusing on is building a bioinformatics resource that annotates the HIV life cycle. This work will be split into roughly three parts; annotating the virus life cycle and its associated viral proteins, annotating known host-virus interactions and illustrating their role in the HIV life cycle, and describing where and how different antiretroviral drugs work to inhibit the HIV life cycle. Patrick and myself will be focusing on curating and annotating the host-HIV interactions and together, as a group, we will be building this comprehensive HIV resource.

The first week has flown by, I have been taught and learnt so much- not just about HIV but also about other viruses and scientific research. Philippe, Patrick and Chantal have helped me so much and my only hope is that I can help them in return with building this necessary HIV resource.

I may have only been here one week but I already know I will be very sad to leave Geneva and SIB. The work experience has been fantastic and I am so grateful to have this opportunity to learn and cement ties between Africa Centre and SIB. This has been a once in a lifetime experience!

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KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), K-RITH Tower Building, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN

Contact: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira, Tel: +27 31 260 4898, Email: tuliodna@gmail.com & deoliveira@ukzn.ac.za

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