Alumna’s Research Furthers Scientists’ Understanding of COVID-19
Jennifer (Hopkins) Biryukov ’06, ’08 M.S. is conducting critical research at one of the primary government labs working with SARS-CoV-2, and her recent work exploring the impact of high temperatures on the virus was published in a leading academic journal.
March 19, 2021
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
Before the coronavirus global pandemic, Jennifer (Hopkins) Biryukov ’06, ’08 M.S. was focused on investigating what she says are more “traditional” biothreat agents. However, over the past year, she has transitioned to researching SARS-CoV-2, and her research was recently published in a leading academic journal.
An associate principal investigator of virology for the Battelle National Biodefense Institute, which manages and operates the National Biodefense Analysis & Countermeasures Center for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Biryukov is working for one of the primary government labs that has been studying the virus. Specifically, she has been focused on researching the environmental stability of SARS-CoV-2, and her recent work has provided data on environmental decay of the virus in aerosols and surfaces, as well as possible decontamination approaches.
“I am incredibly honored to be conducting research that has such a substantial impact on the current pandemic,” said Biryukov, who earned her doctorate in microbiology, immunology, and virology from Penn State College of Medicine. “It is very rewarding to see the immediate impact that our data has had.”
‘The decreased surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 at high temperatures is important’
Biryukov is the lead author of research published recently in the journal Environmental Chemistry Letters. She and her colleagues found that SARS-CoV-2 decays rapidly as temperatures increase on surfaces, suggesting that in under an hour, high temperatures inside vehicles parked outside in warmer months may be sufficient to sanitize nonporous surfaces contaminated with the virus.
The researchers have been performing experiments and generating data that are then provided to the Department of Homeland Security, as well as to public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and then used to make safety recommendations.
“The decreased surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 at high temperatures is important with regards to fomite (inanimate object likely to carry infection) transmission,” said Biryukov. “While chemical disinfection is the most common method for decontaminating surfaces, thermal sanitization may offer an alternative in situations where temperatures can be appropriately elevated, for instance in vehicles utilized for public transport.”
‘A mix of learning, hard work, and fun’
Biryukov and her colleagues are continuing to focus their research on SARS-CoV-2, and they are exploring the impact of other factors, such as sunlight and humidity, on the virus. They are also using animal models to determine the infectious dose of the virus.
“I was always encouraged to pursue relevant experience outside of the classroom that provided me with valuable real-life knowledge and allowed me to hone in on which career path best suited my interests,” she said. “My time as a Charger was a mix of learning, hard work, and fun. I loved being a part of a close-knit community.”