The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine welcomes Associate Professor of Virology Wenjun Ma, B.Vsc, M.Vsc, PhD. Ma will be working in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology in the CVM, while also serving in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology in the MU School of Medicine. Ma, who is from China, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Northeast Agricultural University and the Graduate School of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He went on to earn a PhD at the Justus-Liebig-University in Germany, where he focused on molecular virology and biology. He then came to the United States in 2004 for his postdoctoral trainings, studying at Iowa State University and the National Animal Disease Center, USDA/ARS.
Ma’s professional experience began in 2008, where he worked as a research professor for Kansas State University. In 2011 he became a tenure-track assistant professor at Kansas State University. He remained there until May 2020, while also serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. That is when he joined Mizzou.
Ma’s expertise is in studying different viral and zoonotic diseases and development of vaccines and antivirals for different pathogens, including Rift Valley fever virus and several forms of the influenza virus, such as those that cause swine flu and bird flu. He is currently working on novel bat flu virus supported by the NIH and seeking a grant to support research of North American bats and coronavirus.
Outside of work, Ma enjoys participating in sports as a hobby. He also enjoys fishing, but struggles to find free time because of his work. “I love to play tennis, table tennis, soccer, swimming and basketball. I’ve tried playing against some young guys and gotten hurt, but I love the competitiveness of sports,” he said.
Ma is ready to get started with his research at MU. “I’m very excited. I believe MU will provide a good infrastructure and will be a good opportunity for me,” he said. “Of course, we will have some challenges, but I think this will be good for my career development. I believe I will have more and more opportunities for different collaborations. I’m very excited to be at MU and move forward with my new colleagues.”
The CVM also welcomes Associate Research Professor for Veterinary Pathobiology Kamlendra Singh, PhD. Singh is from India, where he graduated from Banaras Hindu University in the state of Uttar Pradesh. He then came to the United States for his postdoctoral degree at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, where he began his professional career as an instructor and adjunct assistant professor.
Singh came to Mizzou in 2009, and has been in the Bond Life Science Center, working as an assistant research professor and then associate research professor in the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “I have been at Mizzou for 11 years, and have been working in the same office,” said Singh. “I like Mizzou for research. It’s a very nice working environment here at the BLSC, and there has been a lot of support from my peers. There are not enough words to say about how supportive they have been.”
Singh says the reason he decided to switch departments is because he wants to teach. “I always liked teaching. My father was a teacher, so that is in my genes,” he said. “I approached Dr. George Stewart, the former chairman of veterinary pathobiology, and asked him if there was an opportunity for me to join his department.”
When asked by the chairman why he wanted to join, he mentioned his desire to teach. “I like teaching and I wanted to interact with the students,” he said. “That’s what I was missing. I also think there are better opportunities in the College of Veterinary Medicine.” After Stewart stepped down as the chair of the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology, interim Chair Brenda Beerntsen, PhD, completed the process of bringing Singh to the CVM.
Singh earned a PhD in physics. He has a bachelor’s degree in physics, mathematics and chemistry, and a master’s degree in physics with specialization in electronics. He is also a trained biochemist and virologist. He has been involved with computer-aided drug design, and has three patents through MU. “The idea now to transfer to the CVM is to work on viruses that are veterinary related,” said Singh. “I’ve done a lot of research on HIV and I have been involved with coronavirus research ever since I moved to MU.”
Singh’s research paper on coronavirus research was recently picked by the journal Pathogens for the cover. “In the beginning when I heard about this coronavirus I didn’t pay that much attention. In my experience many coronaviruses have emerged and disappeared,” he said. “I myself thought, this will probably go away.”
When it started getting worse in February, he and his collaborators at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden (Singh has an associate faculty appointment in the Karolinska Institute), began looking into it. Singh began using his knowledge of computer-aided drug design and coronavirus to search for existing drugs that may be able to be used against coronaviruses. “We found four inhibitors that were very promising,” he said. “We submitted the paper and proposed that people should use these drugs in clinics. One was already being used, but three of these drugs went to the clinics and are giving good results.”
“It makes me proud, it makes my school proud, it makes my workplace proud, and it makes my department proud,” he said of the cover selection by Pathogens.
Outside of work, Singh enjoys playing tennis and is a former professional cricket player. “I played for a British league in 1980 and 1981. Sometimes I think of my career and think I should have kept it up,” he laughed. “Everything happens for a reason and I’m happy with what I’m doing.”
He said he is excited to join the CVM. “Every faculty member and Dean Henry have been very helpful, as well as Associate Dean Chris Lorson, and the chair Dr. Beerntsen,” he said. “I am looking forward to teaching on top of my research.”
By Nick Childress