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The Evolution of William Schneider

Posted Dec. 9, 2008

The Evolution of William Schneider
William Schneider, Ph.D.
William Schneider, Ph.D.

"The Noble Research Institute afforded me the resources and Marilyn provided me a venue to focus specifically on my projects. That's a pretty unique situation."

William Schneider, Ph.D.,
former Noble Research Institute postdoctoral fellow

William Schneider, Ph.D., grew up in an everybody-knows-everybody town of 57 people in northern Minnesota, so when he arrived at Noble Research Institute, he experienced southern hospitality for the first time. Schneider, who now works in the counterbioterrorism field with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Noble Research Institute with principal investigator Marilyn Roossinck, Ph.D., from 1997 until 2001.

It's fair to say that Schneider learned a lot both inside and outside of the laboratory.

"In Minnesota, we are a bunch of stoic Norwegians and Germans. We don't necessarily go out of our way to smile or to wave at people," he said, chuckling. "I drove around here and people I didn't know would wave at you as you drove by."

Beyond the regional culture experience, Schneider joined the Noble Research Institute's community of postdocs which consisted of individuals from more than 25 countries and a world of experiences opened up before him.

"I developed an appreciation for entirely new cultures," he said. "I learned a lot. It really opened my eyes."

Evolving virus research
Schneider received his bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Minnesota at Duluth and a doctorate degree in genetics from Michigan State University in 1997.

He came to the Noble Research Institute from graduate school where he worked on viruses and became fascinated with how they evolve. He wanted to continue work on virus evolution, but needed an organization where he had resources to perform his particular research.

"I would not have been able to get funding for this type of research because it was too new and too novel," he explained recently. "The Noble Research Institute afforded me the resources and Marilyn provided me a venue to focus specifically on my projects. That was a pretty unique situation."

Schneider and Roossinck honed in on cucumber mosaic virus, tobacco mosaic virus and cowpea chlorotic mottle virus. They compared these plant viruses for population diversity.

"What's hard about fighting viruses and creating vaccines to fight them is that viruses are good at making a lot of mutants and one of those will usually survive no matter what is done to thwart it," Schneider said. "By working with viruses in plants, we could complete population-level work that other researchers were not able to do. We worked at sorting out what controlled the variation within the population. We can do large population studies in plants without affecting humans."

Roossinck and Schneider co-authored several papers on their findings, including two that were published in the Journal of Virology. Roossinck remembers Schneider for his ability, friendliness and lab bench.

"Bill was very productive while he was in my lab, and he helped other postdocs with their projects as well despite having the messiest lab bench I have ever seen," said Roossinck with a laugh. "Somehow, in spite of the piles of papers, petri dishes and other lab paraphernalia, he was always organized by the time I saw the results."

The work Schneider and Roossinck did on population diversity in viruses fueled research that has continued at the Noble Research Institute for the last seven years, Roossinck said. "I was able to try experiments that I would not have been able to try anywhere else," Schneider said. "The Noble Research Institute really provided me tremendous freedom and opportunity. I am glad to know that I contributed to the overall efforts there as well." Schneider completed his term as a postdoc at the Noble Research Institute in 2001.

Schneider's evolution
Schneider continues his work on virus evolution and develops new diagnostic technologies at the USDA's Disease/Weed Science Research Unit at Fort Detrick, Md.

Emerging diseases pose a major threat to human health and agriculture. In recent years, the incidence of emerging diseases has escalated with the increases in global travel.

Schneider's work uses new and adapted technologies as tools for improved diagnosis of plant viral and bacterial diseases that could be used as weapons of bioterrorism. Schneider is currently involved in multiple projects that include identification, characterization and biology of foreign and emerging insecttransmitted plant pathogens.

"A lot of the ideas that I carried forward and built my research program on came from interactions that I developed at the Noble Research Institute," he said. "I'm still thankful I had such a worthwhile postdoc experience."