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W. Harry Feinstone Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology

Alumni FeaturesMichael Berg

Michael G. Berg, PHD, '06

Michael is a Senior Scientist in Infectious Disease Research for the diagnostics division (ADD) of Abbott Laboratories. He joined Abbott in 2013 where he has enjoyed applying the skills and knowledge he acquired at Johns Hopkins. Since more than 60% of the world blood supply is screened on Abbott instruments, the Viral Surveillance program serves as an internal research effort to monitor global sequence diversity present in strains of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C viruses. Abbott’s instruments and current molecular and serologic tests aim to accurately quantify all infections and mutations before they become impossible to detect or treat.

Michael’s initial work focused on implementing next-generation DNA sequencing (NGS) technology into the existing workflow and developing a universal approach for sequencing all HIV strains. In his new role as the team leader for the Virus Discovery program, his current focus is on anticipating the next epidemic.

With metagenomic NGS, it is now possible to simultaneously detect all known and novel pathogens present in a patient sample. His responsibilities include sourcing and screening specimens with illness of unknown etiology; running a Biosafety Level 3 culture facility; developing more sensitive metagenomic sample prep methods; driving innovations in bioinformatic analysis; publishing manuscripts; and presenting data at scientific conferences and customer symposiums around the world. Along with the Infectious Disease Research team, he has received several awards for the recent discovery of a new virus, human pegivirus-2, found primarily in Hepatitis C-infected individuals.

While a MMI student at JHSPH, Michael worked with Gary Ketner to design live-recombinant adenoviral vaccines for prevention of HPV-induced cervical cancer and measured immune responses to them in mice and macaque models of infection. After earning his doctorate in 2006, he trained as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. His research was featured in Nature and Cell and focused on understanding mechanisms of messenger RNA processing including high-throughput screening methods to identify RNA splicing modulators; the role of U1 snRNP in maintaining mRNA length; and the design and application of an NGS approach to selectively sequence differentially expressed transcripts. Defining a new role for the U1 snRNP splicing factor in maintaining mRNA length has broad implications for cell activation and cancer.