Advisory Board

Dr. Luis P. Villarreal

The New Yorker article Darwin’s Surprise Why are evolutionary biologists bringing back extinct deadly viruses? said

There may be no biological process more complicated than the relationships that viruses have with their hosts. Could it be that their persistence made it possible for humans to thrive? Luis P. Villarreal has posed that question many times, most notably in a 2004 essay, “Can Viruses Make Us Human?” Villarreal is the director of the Center for Virus Research at the University of California at Irvine. “This question will seem preposterous to most,” his essay begins. “Viruses are molecular genetic parasites and are mostly recognized for their ability to induce disease.”
Yet he goes on to argue that they also represent “a major creative force” in our evolution, driving each infected cell to acquire new and increasingly complex molecular identities. Villarreal was among the first to propose that endogenous retroviruses played a crucial role in the development of the mammalian placenta. He goes further than that, though: “Clearly, we have been observing evolution only for a very short time. Yet we can witness what current viruses,” such as H.I.V., “can and might do to the human population.”

Luis P. Villarreal, Ph.D. is Professor, Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, School of Biological Sciences, Director, Center for Virus Research, Director, Viral Vector Facility, and Director, Minority Science Program School of Biological Sciences, all at University of California, Irvine. His research interests are virus evolution, viral gene therapy vectors, BSL3 cell culture, cancer virology, proteomics, and biodefense.
His laboratory was initially interested in the link between small DNA virus replication to host cell differentiation with both polyomavirus and papillomavirus. His interest is both basic (mouse polyomavirus studies of viral persistence), and applied (human papillomavirus and cervical cancer) as well as theoretical (virus and host evolution). In the past decade he has published numerous articles and several books, including a recent book on virus and host evolution. He has also been the director of a BSL3 and recombinant DNA laboratory. He is currently the director of the Center for Virus Research, an organized research unit at the University of California. he also recently joined the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) for NIH.
Luis authored Viruses and the Evolution of Life, Can Viruses Make Us Human?, and Are Viruses Alive?, and coauthored AIDS: Science and Society, The Biology of AIDS, Structural Proteomics of the Poxvirus Family. Profiling the humoral immune response to infection by using proteome microarrays: High-throughput vaccine and diagnostic antigen discovery, A Hypothesis for DNA Viruses as the Origin of Eukaryotic Replication Proteins, In situ adenoviral interleukin 12 gene transfer confers potent and long-lasting cytotoxic immunity in glioma, Acute and Persistent Viral Life Strategies and Their Relationship to Emerging Diseases, and Parvovirus variation for disease: a difference with RNA viruses?. Read more of his free online publications!
Luis earned his B.S. in Biochemistry at the California State University at Los Angeles in 1971 and his Ph.D. in Biology at the University of California, San Diego. He completed his postdoctoral research in virology at Stanford University with Nobel laureate Paul Berg.