Emerging topic: The COVID-19 pandemic


With the outbreak of the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the HIRI immediately began researching the process of infection and disease development. HIRI scientists are looking for potential weaknesses where, either infection can be prevented or stopped at an early stage. Their ultimate goal is to develop drugs for this and future pandemics.



The novel coronavirus invades an organism - from that moment on the organism serves as a "host". The virus then uses the host organism to multiply and causes the symptoms of COVID-19 (including fever, cough, exhaustion). In order to understand these processes, research at HIRI, together with German and international cooperation partners, uses the latest technologies.

Firstly, the researchers look at how the novel coronavirus multiplies in the host. To do this, SARS-CoV-2 uses a strategy called "ribosomal frameshifting". This method allows the virus, with its limited set of genetic information, to produce a much larger number of protein building blocks and thus establish itself and multiply in host cells. HIRI scientist Neva Caliskan and her research group are working hard to identify the key interaction partners during replication.

HIRI group leader Emmanuel Saliba studies cells at an individual level. With the technology of "single-cell RNA sequencing", the cell infection process of an infected person can be traced in unprecedentedly high resolution. One step at a time, a series of maps is being created. With these maps, it is possible to observe how different RNAs are created, used and degraded in a single cell at a specific time.    

Other research groups at HIRI are deciphering the interface between Sars-CoV-2 and its host. They contribute their individual expertise to the joint research work.  

Scientific publications on SARS-CoV-2

A direct RNA-protein interaction atlas of the SARS-CoV-2 RNA in infected human cells

HIRI scientist Mathias Munschauer, together with colleagues of the JMU Würzburg and the Broad Institute (Cambridge, USA), develops the first global atlas of direct interactions between the SARS-CoV-2 RNA and the proteome of the human host. The study was published as a preprint on bioRxiv.

Severe COVID-19 is marked by a dysregulated myeloid cell compartment

Nationwide research network with HIRI participation publishes current findings on COVID-19 in the journal Cell

Characterization of Cas12a nucleases reveals diverse PAM profiles between closely-related orthologs

In a recent paper published in Nucleic Acids Research, HIRI researchers find natural ways to overcome limitations of the genome-editing tool.

Our research


A promising approach for rapidly developing a cure for COVID-19 and many other diseases are mRNA vaccines. More about the advantages and possible applications of these innovative vaccines and the current state of research is available in the following interviews and in the video interview with Professor Jörg Vogel at the beginning of the page.

Media coverage

Researchers at the HIRI are highly demanded interview partners on the topic of coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and provide assessments of the situation. Here you can find selected articles:

"SARS-CoV-2-Infektion - Wie das Virus Proteine der Zelle nutzt"

Young investigator Dr. Mathias Munschauer explains how human body cells and their proteins interact with SARS-CoV-2 and how this could be used to develop new therapeutic approaches

"Neuer Zweig der Medizin: mRNA ist mehr als nur ein Impfstoff"

In Deutschlandfunk's "Wissenschaft im Brennpunkt" format (January 17, 2021), Prof. Jörg Vogel answers questions about mRNA as a new beacon of hope in the corona pandemic and as a new treatment method far beyond.

"Schnelligkeit vor Sicherheit? Rennen um die Zulassung der Corona-Impfstoffe"

In this Deutschlandfunk report (October 13, 2020), Prof. Jörg Vogel and colleagues from the field explain details on the status of vaccine development against the novel coronavirus.

"Russischer Impfstoff: Würzburger Forscher warnen vor Risiken“

HIRI director Jörg Vogel and HIRI-affiliated virologist Lars Dölken take a stand on the Russian corona vaccine in this interview (Mainpost, 12.08.2020).

"Corona-Impfstoff: Würzburger Professor hat ,gute Nachrichten' "

In this newspaper interview (Mainpost, 27.07.2020) Jörg Vogel shares his view on the status of vaccine development against SARS-CoV2.

Further information on SARS-CoV-2 and the research efforts undertaken by our parent center, the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research can be found here. 


"We need to fully understand the course of the infection as well as the ensuing host response to help healthcare professionals to treat high-risk patients. The analysis of virus-host interactions on the single-cell level could be key, it would allow us to pinpoint molecular factors and cellular pathways for prioritizing drug targets."

Jörg Vogel, in his LifeTime COVID-19 interview read more


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