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Microbiology Logo Microbiology & Immunology
Te Tari Moromoroiti me te Ārai Mate

MICR 337: Virology

Second Semester - 18 points

Course prescription

Molecular aspects of viral entry, replication, and assembly in host cells. Mechanisms by which viruses manipulate the hosts to multiply and cause disease.

"The labs were very enjoyable and the lectures were very detailed" - MICR 337 student, 2019.

Course overview

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  • Viruses are microscopic organisms that cause serious human, animal, and plant diseases worldwide. The COVID-19 pandemic is caused by a virus. Therefore, learning about the viruses is relevant more than ever. There is, and will be a constant need for experienced virologists who can identify viruses, diagnose viral diseases, and develop new and innovative antiviral drugs and vaccines. 

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  •  MICR337 is the only 300 level course in a New Zealand university that is fully dedicated to in-depth learning about viruses and their interactions with their host. From this paper, you will acquire the knowledge essential for a career in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of viral diseases.




Course objectives: 

  1. Provide the molecular understanding of how viruses with different structures and genomes enter, replicate, assemble, and release from the host cell.
  2. Examine the systemic effects of viral infection on the host and highlight the mechanisms viruses employ to evade host defence.
  3. Integrate information from virus replication and virus-host interactions and provide the basis of vaccine and antiviral strategies.
  4. Develop hands-on research experience with virological methods and techniques.
  5. Promote independent thinking and enable research and critical assessment of a topic. Foster oral communication skills and develop ability to work as a team.

Lecture course overview

Two lectures per week for 13 teaching weeks of the second semester.

Lecture time: Thursdays and Fridays at 13.00-13:50

Lab course overview

Two laboratory sessions per week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays during academic week 37-40 for a total of 8 laboratory sessions (some lab work outside these sessions is required). The laboratory sessions can be flexible for those students taking other courses with timetable overlap. Students may leave the lab for other commitments such as lectures and are able to plan their experiments to fit around those commitments.

In the laboratory, students will isolate and purify their own virus from an environmental sample. Then, determine its growth characteristics and host range, and identify it by visualizing it under an electron microscope. Lab classes are compulsory, failure to attend and complete the lab classes means students may not sit the final exam.

Group presentations and essay overview

This is a self-learning module. Students will research a given virology topic on their own, give a short group presentation to the class, and write an individual 1000-word essay.

Four group presentation sessions in Thursday and Friday lecture slots during the last week of July and/or first week of August. One of the presentation sessions run for 100 minutes, but the clashes with other lectures can be worked around. Individual essay submissions are due on third Monday of August. 


a)     Presentation and essay (10% of final grade). Self-learning exercise on below topics (these topics are updated as needed): 

  1. What is Zika virus and why should New Zealand be worried about it? 
  2. What were the fundamental differences between COVID-19 and swine flu pandemics? 
  3. The emergence and epidemiology of chikungunya virus. 
  4. The evolution and emergence of new strains of human noroviruses. 
  5. The use of reoviruses for the treatment of cancer in humans. 
  6. Ebola virus: where does it come from and how can it be controlled? 
  7. What is the best polio vaccine and what are the major barriers to final eradication of poliovirus? 
  8. Virophages: what are they and what is their host? 
  9. Bats as reservoirs of human viruses: should we be worried? 
  10. The consequences of a future pandemic caused by avian influenza A H5N1 or H7N9 virus. 
  11. Currently available cervical cancer vaccines and their efficacy. 
  12. Epstein-Barr virus: the discovery, the disease, and the treatment. 
  13. HIV vaccine: are we there yet? 
  14. The potential of bacteriophage therapy in the treatment of bacterial infections. 
  15. Hepatitis C antivirals: why do we need them, what is available, and what is being developed? 
  16. The emergence and epidemiology of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus. 


b)     Two laboratory assignments (20% of final grade). These are based on the laboratory experiments. Due on first and second Thursday of October.

c)     Final examination, 3 hour (70% of final grade). In a unique model, students are given 9 final exam questions below beforehand, 6 of which forms the basis of final examination. The exam format is “answer 3 either/or questions”. Scheduled as per University calendar.

  1. Describe the mechanisms used by viruses to enter host cells.
  2. Discuss the structural basis of virus assembly. 
  3. How do viruses maximise the protein coding potential of their genomes?
  4. How do viruses control the production of host cell proteins?
  5. Describe the intracellular pathways viruses utilise for assembly and release.
  6. Describe the key characteristics that enable viruses to establish chronic infections.
  7. Compare the life cycles of an orthomyxovirus and a coronavirus from entry to release.
  8. Describe the viral and host factors that contribute to pathogenesis of viruses.
  9. What mechanisms do viruses use to evade host defence responses?

*Note: In case the country moves back to Level 2/3/4 and the final exam conducted online, the exam questions and the format could partially or entirely change from the above. 


Students must achieve a 50% average to pass MICR 337

Course prerequisites

MICR 221, MICR 223 or GENE 211


The course contact time involves two lectures per week for 13 teaching weeks of the second semester. There are two laboratory classes per week during academic weeks 9 – 12 of the second semester for a total of 48 hours, including lab work outside these hours as required. 


Thursday, Friday 1-1.50pm (ARCH2)


Principles of Virology, Flint et al (2nd, 3rd, and 4th edition); Introduction to Modern Virology, Dimmock et al (6th and 7th edition); Web-based resources.

Teaching staff

For more information

View the details of this paper on the University of Otago website

Download the 2021 course outline (PDF)

Students are encouraged to contact staff by email to make arrangements for a time to discuss course-related matters.

For more information on this course, please contact Professor Vernon Ward.