Professor Ed Rybicki, Director, Biopharming Research Unit, Univerity of Cape Town; Marvin Hsiao, senior lecturer, Division of Medical Virology, Univerity of Cape Town

Viruses have emerged from animal reservoirs into the human species many times in history; the impacts have often been severe. Examples include influenza pandemics and smallpox, yellow fever, dengue and Zika virus and several coronaviruses. We are closer to being able to predict which viruses could emerge, and where – yet the recent spillover of SARS-CoV-2 from animals into humans took the planet completely by surprise.

These lectures introduce viruses as organisms causing zoonotic diseases, and give an account of the history of their discovery, concentrating on influenza and coronaviruses that cause severe respiratory disease, and will highlight what we understand of how viral pandemics occur, new developments in the discovery of potentially emerging viruses, and what we can do to protect ourselves from them.

Important developments in the characterisation of viruses were the advent of nucleic acid sequencing techniques and high-throughput massively parallel (=next-gen) sequencing, and the unravelling of the molecular biology of viruses. The second lecture will cover the discovery and rapid characterisation of SARS-CoV-2, and what its genome can tell us about how to make vaccines against it. The third lecture will describe different approaches used to make vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, and how the vaccines have worked in preventing disease.

The fourth lecture will cover the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic in South Africa, with emphasis on the emergence of successive waves of variants that completely changed the expectation of modellers and epidemiologists as to how the pandemic could proceed.

Influenza viruses have been with us for centuries, yet still emerge unpredictably to cause pandemics. The now- famous filoviruses causing Marburg and Ebola haemorrhagic disease have repeatedly emerged from nowhere to cause human deaths. SARS-CoV, MERS-CoV and now SARS-CoV-2 have also all emerged in the last fifteen years or so. In the modern era of cheap and rapid sequencing: what will be next, and what can we do about it?


Lecture titles

1.  Introduction to potentially pandemic viruses and their discovery Professor Ed Rybicki

2.  Molecular virology and the characterisation of pandemic viruses Professor Ed Rybicki

3.  SARS-CoV-2 vaccines  Professor Ed Rybicki

4.  Dealing with a virus pandemic: the response to Covid-19 in South Africa Marvin Hsiao

5.  Pandemics and panic Professor Ed Rybicki and Marvin Hsiao


Recommended reading

Rybicki E.P. 2020. A Short History of the Discovery of Viruses. Apple Books. PDF version available from author.

Rybicki E.P. 2021. Panics & Pandemics. Excerpt from an upcoming textbook. Available from author as a PDF file.





DATE: Monday 17–Friday 21 January
TIME: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES: R375 (online)/R550 (in person)