Evolutionary Medicine and Informatics: Disease Origins

Tracing Pathogen Evolution to Unravel Dynamics of Infections and Drug Resistance

Prescription pill bottles

Events such as the emergence of swine flu and the spread of antibiotic resistance remind us that pathogens are constantly evolving and invading new hosts and geographic areas. How does a new pathogen emerge? How quickly does drug resistance arise and propagate? How did diseases leave their mark on our evolutionary history? Answering these questions demands inference-based approaches that integrate information from genes to populations across various temporal and spatial scales. This necessity, together with novel evolutionary genetics, genomics, and mathematical modeling tools, has positioned research on disease origins at the forefront of evolutionary medicine.

Our program focuses on generating and analyzing genetic patterns from pathogens and their hosts. We are interested in the dynamics of multi-host pathogens, as they provide information about the molecular adaptations and ecological settings that allow microbes to successfully infect humans. We also study the origin and propagation of novel mutations in pathogens that affect clinical outcomes, such as those conferring drug- resistances. We approach these problems by incorporating concepts from anthropology, ecology, epidemiology, and evolutionary biology. Overall, we infer the processes and history of pathogens and mutations using tools from population genetics, comparative genomics, and molecular systematics. We are also developing new analytical frameworks to understand the origin of mutations conferring drug resistance in the pathogen.

Disease Origins Team

Core: Ananias Escalante, Timothy Karr, Michael S. Rosenberg
Key: Philip Hedrick, Jesse Taylor

Senior: Li Liu, Maria Pacheco
Junior:  Stella Chenet, Andreina Castillo-Siri

Fabia Battistuzzi, Oakland U
Kristan Schneider, Univeritat Wien, Vienna
Lisa Jones-Engel, U of Washington
David Smith, U of Florida
Georges Snounou, Université Pierre & Marie Curie, France
Shannon Takala, U of Maryland
Venkatachalam Udhayakumar, Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention