Arvind Varsani

Associate Professor
Biodesign FAM

Location: TEMPE

Contact Information
(480) 727-2093


  • Ph.D. University of Cape Town, South Africa
  • B.Sc.Loughborough University, England

Research Interests

I work across ecosystems, from plants to animals, and from the tropics to the Antarctic with a strong focus on viral evolution and dynamics, and viral metagenomics. My research uses a combination of traditional virology, microscopy (including transmission electron microscopy), molecular and cellular biology techniques in conjunction with modern techniques including next-generation sequencing, synthetic biology and bioinformatics. A brief overview of my current research projects is provided below.

  • Darren Martin (author of the most widely used recombination detection software; South Africa) and I have set up a wide collaborative network of scientists world-wide to study viral evolution though recombination, viral phylogeography and global viral movement patterns of the plant-infecting geminiviruses and nanoviruses. While initially our research was based in Africa and South America, recently we have also focused on the Pacific region. As a team, Philippe Roumagnac, Pierre Lefeuvre, Darren Martin and I are attempting to identify drivers of plant viral emergence in ecosystems.
  • In collaboration with Mya Breitbart, Karyna Rosario and Milen Marinov, I have embarked on a unique concept of using top end insect predators to sample viromes in various ecosystems. Additionally, my group has recently started looking at human and animal viruses vectored by black flies and mosquitoes in New Zealand and the pacific islands.
  • I have an active avian circoviurs disease research program with the Department of Conservation of New Zealand, Parc Zoologique et Forestier (New Caledonia), Bethany Jackson (Murdoch University, Australia), Tomasz Stenzel (University of Warmia and Mazury, Poland) and Tomasz Piasecki (WrocBaw University of Environmental and Life Sciences, Poland).
  • I am running a variety of viral discovery projects associated with various animals in the US, fruit bats in the pacific island of Tonga, various fungi, farm animals, insects and molluscs in New Zealand.
  • In a collaborative effort, David Ainley (penguin ecologist, USA), Grant Ballard (penguin ecologist, USA), Stacey Kim (marine ecologist, USA), Jennifer Burns (seal ecologist, USA) Melanie Massaro (avian ecologist, Australia), Joseph Levy (permafrost geologist, USA), William Davison (fish physiologist, New Zealand) and I are exploring the diversity of viral communities in the Antarctic.


Arvind Varsani is a molecular virologist who works across ecosystems from plants to animals and from the tropics to polar regions. His research uses a combination of traditional virology, microscopy (including transmission electron microscopy), molecular and cellular biology techniques in conjunction with modern sequencing techniques, synthetic biology and bioinformatics to characterise viruses and understand their dynamics.

Studies over the last decade have shown that viruses are the most common and abundant entities on earth, yet very little is known about their evolutionary dynamics and roles in ecosystems. Our current knowledge of viruses is heavily biased to those that cause disease in humans, animals and plants. This knowledge equates to a very small portion of the viral diversity on the planet and hence a very minute fraction of the virome associated with humans, animals and plants. Over the last decade Arvind Varsani and his collaborators have focused on addressing diversity, demographics and evolutionary dynamics of viral communities in various ecosystems.

Arvind Varsanis broader objectives are to: 1) study viral dynamics in Ross Sea (Antarctica) ecosystem which is recognised as anthropogenically the least-altered marine system on the planet with no evidence indicating introduction or range expansion of any species thus far, despite its changing physical environment; 2) unravel the viral evolutionary dynamics as a consequence of climate change; 3) study viral ecological interaction networks within a microbiome and more broadly within phytobiomes in order to unravel the dynamics of pathogen emergence.