“Working in microbiology is a bit like predicting the stock market; Nature is probably more imaginative than we would like her to be.”

Peter Palese, PhD
Horace W. Goldsmith Professor and Chair of Microbiology and Professor of Medicine

An internationally renowned microbiologist, Peter Palese, PhD, pioneered the field of reverse genetics for negative-strand RNA viruses, which allows the introduction of site-specific mutations into the genomes of these viruses. This revolutionary technique is crucial for the study of the structure/function relationships of viral genes, for investigation of viral pathogenicity, and for development and manufacture of novel vaccines. The technique has significant implications in understanding and preparing for infectious disease pandemics.

Reverse genetics allowed Dr. Palese and his colleagues to reconstruct and study the pathogenicity of the highly virulent but extinct 1918 pandemic influenza virus also known as the “Spanish flu.” His recent work in collaboration with Mount Sinai virologist Adolfo García-Sastre, PhD, has revealed that most negative-strand RNA viruses possess proteins with interferon antagonist activity, enabling them to counteract the antiviral response of the infected host.

The Department of Microbiology is focused on studying such viruses as hepatitis C, dengue, Ebola, Marburg, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, cytomegalovirus, and several negative-strand RNA viruses. Studies are directed at understanding how the innate immune system of the infected host is counteracted by components of these viruses and how the interferon signaling system works on a molecular level. Department researchers are developing new vaccines against these viruses and in identifying small molecular weight compounds for use as antivirals.

Dr. Palese has more than 270 scientific publications that include research on the replication of RNA-containing viruses with a special emphasis on influenza viruses, which are negative-strand RNA viruses. He established the first genetic maps for influenza A, B, and C viruses, identified the function of several viral genes, and defined the mechanism of neuraminidase inhibitors (which are now FDA-approved antivirals).

Dr. Palese was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 for his seminal studies on influenza viruses. He is also a member of the German Academy of Sciences and a corresponding member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. He serves on the editorial board for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and as an editor for the Journal of Virology. Dr. Palese was President of the Harvey Society in 2004 and President of the American Society for Virology in 2005-2006. His honors include the Robert Koch Prize in 2006 and of the Charles C. Shepard Science Award in 2008.

After earning a PhD in chemistry from the University of Vienna in Austria in 1969, Dr. Palese remained at the university to pursue a master's degree in pharmaceutical science. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship in virology at the Roche Institute for Molecular Biology in Nutley, New Jersey. Dr. Palese joined the Mount Sinai faculty in 1971 as an Assistant Professor of Microbiology. He rose through the ranks and was named Chair of the Department of Microbiology in 1987.