Our lab explores how organisms have evolved to defend against pathogenic microbes, and how microbes evolve to colonize and 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, including humans, have evolved to defend against pathogenic bacteria. Using a combination of evolutionary and molecular genetics, biochemistry, and cell biology approaches, we are able to experimentally test how host genetic variation influences anti-bacterial immune defense. Our work to date has covered a range of biological pathways including how primates and humans have evolved to prevent bacterial nutrient metal acquisition, as well as the diversification of microbial antigen recognition by mammalian immune receptors.
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 determine how bacteria adapt to these diverse obstacles to survive and thrive within the host. We use experimental evolution of microbes in the lab to track the process of adaptation in real time, as well as genetic methods 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.