Date of Award

Spring 3-2015

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences


Russell Schwartz


Understanding the mechanisms of virus capsid assembly has been an important research objective over the past few decades. Determining critical points along the pathways by which virus capsids form could prove extremely beneficial in producing more stable DNA vectors or pinpointing targets for antiviral therapy. The inability of current experimental technology to address this objective has resulted in a need for alternative approaches. Theoretical and computational studies offer an unprecedented opportunity for detailed examination of capsid assembly. The Schwartz Lab has previously developed a discrete event stochastic simulator to model virus assembly based upon local rules detailing the geometry and interaction kinetics of individual capsid subunits. Applying numerical optimization methods to learn kinetic rate parameters that fit simulation output to in vitro static light scattering data has been a successful avenue to understand the details of virus assembly systems; however, information describing in vitro assembly processes does not necessarily translate to real virus assembly pathways in vivo. There are a number of important distinctions between experimental and realistic assembly environments that must be addressed to produce an accurate model. This thesis will describe work expanding upon previous parameter estimation algorithms for more complex data over three model icosahedral virus systems: human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV). Then it will consider two important modifications to assembly environment to more accurately reflect in vivo conditions: macromolecular crowding and the presence of nucleic acid about which viruses may assemble. The results of this work led to a number of surprising revelations about the variability in potential assembly rates and mechanisms discovered and insight into how assembly mechanisms are affected by changes in concentration, fluctuations in kinetic rates and adjustments to the assembly environment.