Micah Luftig, PhD – Biography

Associate Professor and Vice Chair
Director, Center for Virology

research • biography • lab members • alumni • publications

Micah Luftig graduated from the Louisiana State University with a B.S. in Microbiology in 1998. During his undergraduate career, he worked on herpesvirus glycoproteins and virus entry. He worked with Dr. Gus Kousoulas at LSU in Baton Rouge and completed an Oak Ridge Fellowship in the Herpesvirus section at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta under section chief, Dr. Phil Pellet. His undergraduate research identified the biochemical features of the major virion-associated fusion glycoprotein B (gB) on Kaposi’s sarcoma-associated herpesvirus.

He then moved to Boston as a graduate student in the Program in Virology at Harvard Medical School. Initially, he worked in Dr. Don Wiley’s lab continuing the biochemical study of herpesvirus glycoproteins. He crystallized the complex of HSV-1 gD and its receptor nectin-1, a structure that would be solved nine years later in the group of Dr. Andrea Carfi. His thesis research was in Dr. Elliott Kieff’s lab studying Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). He identified the genetic requirements of NFkB activation by the viral oncoprotein, latent membrane protein 1. These studies have been corroborated by others and laid the foundation for understanding the molecular basis of diverse NFkB activation pathways. He followed up these studies with a proteomic analysis of the purified Epstein-Barr virus enveloped particle and nucleocapsid. This benchmark biochemical paper identified a number of novel virion components including a role for host cytoskeletal and chaperone proteins in the mature virion. He was awarded a Ph.D. in Virology in 2003.

Dr. Luftig next joined the group of Dr. Andrea Carfi in the Department of Biochemistry at the Istituto di Ricerca di Biologia Molecolare (IRBM) “P. Angeletti” in Pomezia, Italy (outside of Rome). He was awarded an EMBO Long-Term Postdoctoral Fellowship for his structural studies on viral glycoproteins. At IRBM, he solved the crystal structure of the HIV gp41 protein bound to the cross-neutralizing antibody D5. These studies illuminated a novel mechanism of virus neutralization that has broad implications in vaccine immunogen design. Following this work, he initiated studies of the host response of primary B cells to EBV infection.

In 2007, he began his independent laboratory as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center. His work is focused on the question of what host pathways respond to and negatively regulate the immortalization of primary human B cells by EBV. He was appointed as the Deputy Director of the Duke Center for Virology in 2009. In 2015, he was promoted to Associate Professor with Tenure. His work has expanded to inlude cellular and molecular studies of the virus/host interactions that regulate B-cell transformation as well as how EBV contributes to gastric cancer and the role P. falciparum malaria plays together with EBV in promoting Burkitt lymphoma. In 2017, Dr. Luftig became co-Vice Chair of MGM with a purview including research and innovation efforts in the department. In 2018, he became Director of the Duke Center for Virology.