Research Projects
Decipher the Structure and Mechanism of Coronavirus Non-structural Proteins

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Over the last two decades, there were three outbreaks for severe coronavirus infection in humans including the current pandemic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which is responsible for the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). With the global health and economic burden due to Covid-19, it is increasingly urgent to understand the coronavirus life cycle and pathogenesis in molecular level.

Coronavirus undergoes a complicated life cycle in the host cell and makes a significant rearrangement of host membranes. It transforms host membranes into double-membrane vesicles (DMVs) which may form a framework for viral genome replication by localizing and concentrating the necessary factors and possibly providing protection from host cell defences. Specifically, the membrane remodelling and formation of DMVs are induced by a few non-structural proteins (Nsp3, Nsp4 and Nsp6), conserved in coronavirus family. These proteins form a putative pore complex on the DMVs, potentially mediating genome transport after new genomes are synthesized and messenger RNAs are produced inside the DMVs. The pore may serve as a scaffold for the assembly of the membrane-associated replication/transcription complex (RTC), a large multi-subunit assembly that is comprised of more than a dozen proteins. We aim to understand the role of Nsp3 pore complex and DMV in coronavirus life cycle. 

The project will use a combination of biochemical and structural biology approach. We are looking for candidates who are interested in virology and/or structural biology including cryoEM single particle analysis and cryoET subtomogram averaging. The detailed projects will be determined between the student and PI.

Dr T Ni, School of Biomedical Sciences

Dr Ni is an Assistant Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences at HKU. Prior to joining to HKU, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford and visitor scientist at eBIC working on HIV capsid and carboxysomes using cryoEM and cryoET subtomogram averaging. Dr Ni completed his Bachelor in Biological Sciences degree in Nankai University (2008-2012) and PhD in structural biology in the University of Oxford (2012-2016).

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For more information or to express interest for this project, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the project description.  Interested candidates are advised to enclose with your email:

  1. your CV,
  2. a brief description of your research interest and experience, and
  3. two reference letters (not required for HKUMed UG students seeking MRes[Med]/URIS projects).

Information on the research programme, funding support and admission documentations could be referenced online at the Research Postgraduate Admissions website. General admission enquiries should be directed to

HKUMed MBBS students interested in the Master of Research in Medicine (MRes[Med]) programme may visit the programme website for more information.  

HKUMed UG students interested in the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) may visit the scheme’s website for more information.