We study how animals have evolved to defend against pathogenic microbes, and how microbes evolve to survive within animal hosts.
EVOLUTION OF HOST IMMUNE DEFENSE
Infectious diseases are a potent force of natural selection. Repeated 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 lab is working to understand how humans and related animals have evolved to recognize and respond to pathogenic bacteria. We apply genetic and genomic approaches to identify patterns of rapid evolution among host species, combined with laboratory experiments to determine the consequences of host genetic variation. Our work to date has applied this framework to explore questions ranging from bacterial nutrient metal acquisition to the evolution of pathogen recognition by primate innate immune receptors.
Bacteria and fungi are faced with a variety of challenges when colonizing the host environment including predatory viruses, competing resident microbes, nutrient limitation, and the host immune system. One of our major goals is to determine how microbes adapt to these diverse obstacles. We perform laboratory experimental evolution to track the process of microbial adaptation in real time, as well as develop molecular and genetic tools to assess the impact 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.