John Steel

Assistant Professor

Emory University School of Medicine


Education: Ph.D, University of Strathclyde

Dr Steel is an Assistant Professor working in the Microbiology and Immunology Department at Emory University. He obtained his PhD from the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK, and conducted postdoctoral training at both the MRC Virology Unit in Glasgow, UK and at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, NY.


The main research themes of my laboratory are the development of vaccines targeting influenza A viruses, the characterization of broadly cross-reactive neutralizing antibodies specific for influenza A virus, and the identification of virally encoded molecular determinants of pathogenicity and transmissibility of influenza viruses among mammals.

Previously, as a research Associate in New York, in the laboratory of Peter Palese, I was involved in the development of live attenuated H5N1 subtype vaccines for use in poultry. Toward the generation of such vaccines, I pursued two distinct strategies of attenuation, both of which take advantage of the ability to introduce targeted mutations into the influenza viral genome using reverse genetics techniques. The first strategy was based on the replacement of the influenza virus neuraminidase glycoprotein with that of an avian paramyxovirus, Newcastle disease virus; this approach allowed the generation of a bivalent vaccine with the potential to induce immunity against two important pathogens of poultry. The second strategy involved the introduction of specific mutations into the H5N1 genome at three sites known to contribute to pathogenicity and was designed to allow an optimal balance between attenuation and immunogenicity to be attained.

More recently I have pursued the development of influenza specific vaccines which will elicit broadly cross reactive neutralizing antibodies in the host, with the ultimate aim of designing a universal influenza vaccine.

In addition to the development of these vaccines, I have been involved in identifying the viral factors responsible for the high virulence of recent H5N1 isolates and the adaptive changes, which might allow the transmission of H5N1 viruses among mammalian hosts. Since the 2009 influenza pandemic, the techniques and approaches developed for avian influenza virus research have been applied to the characterization and investigation of novel H1N1 pandemic strains.

Research Topics