Our lab investigates how organisms have evolved to defend against pathogenic microbes, and how microbes evolve to infect animal hosts.
EVOLUTION OF HOST IMMUNE DEFENSE
Infectious diseases are a potent force of natural selection. Repeated episodes of adaptation at host-microbe interfaces can lead to molecular ‘arms races,’ providing some of the most dramatic examples of rapid evolution observed in nature. Our group is working to understand how animals, particularly humans and other primates, have evolved to defend against pathogenic bacteria. Using a combination of evolutionary genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology approaches, we are able to directly test how mutations in specific genes influence anti-bacterial immune defense functions. Our work to date has applied this approach to explore a range of questions including how primates have evolved to counteract bacterial nutrient metal acquisition, as well as how diversification of host immune receptors shapes recognition of diverse bacterial antigens.
Pathogenic bacteria are faced with a variety of challenges when colonizing the host environment including predatory phages, competing resident microbes, nutrient limitation, and host immunity factors. One of our emerging goals is to identify the forces that shape microbial evolution within the host and determine how microbes adapt to these diverse obstacles. We perform experimental evolution of microbes in the lab to track the process of adaptation in real time, as well as molecular and genetic tools to assess the impacts bacterial diversity on disease-associated functions. In addition to advancing our fundamental understanding of the evolutionary process, identifying determinants of adaptation in human pathogens could also reveal new avenues for infectious disease treatment and prevention.