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Joseph Luna

Joe is a virologist and RNA scientist who is fascinated by viruses and how they shape our world.

Joe is captivated by viruses and all they can teach us. In the lab, he spends most of his time devising creative ways to use viruses as tools to uncover how cells work. He’s especially interested in the host proteins that RNA virus genomes use to make more copies of themselves as well as how cells are able to sense invading viral genomes to mount an immune response. As an inaugural 2021 RockEDU fellow, Joe created and led our RNA virus hunters track where students generated and analyzed environmental RNA sequencing datasets to uncover the microbes and viruses that are all around us. As a mentor, Joe is committed to creating learning environments that introduce students from diverse backgrounds to think like scientists. Even better, to think like viruses. 

What’s his story?

A native of El Paso, Texas, Joe’s love of molecular biology was sparked at age 10 by the movie Jurassic Park. He went to Yale University as a first-generation college student where he earned a BS in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry in 2006. His start as a virologist began with a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) fellowship working with Walter Mothes at Yale on anti-retroviral restriction factors. He then landed at Rockefeller in 2008 to pursue his PhD with Robert B. Darnell and Charles M. Rice, with whom he pioneered the use of next generation sequencing methods to unravel small RNA interactions during hepatitis C virus infection and related viruses. After receiving his PhD in 2015, he stayed in the Rice lab for his postdoc where he worked with an alphabet soup of virus families from alpha to corona to pox to Zika. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University with a lab dedicated to further RNA virus adventures with the next generation of scientists. 

Outside of the lab, Joe is an avid letterpress printer and classical guitar hobbyist. 

You can find Joe on Twitter under the handle @virologistjoe.

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