Host switching events due to pathogen spill-over are a leading cause of emerging infectious diseases, which are putting an ever-increasing burden on biodiversity and human wellbeing. Investigating the spatiotemporal factors of infectious disease emergence is a hot topic, but the genetic basis of pathogen host switching in isolation of ecological factors remains a poorly understood dimension to the field. My PhD research seeks to address this knowledge gap by focusing on ranaviruses as a model system.
Ranaviruses are a genus of double-stranded DNA virus that are important pathogens of amphibians, and are unique in the extraordinarily large breadth of hosts that they can infect. They have been known to cause disease in over 200 species of amphibians, and can readily jump into and infect fish and reptiles. As such, the host range of ranaviruses spans three taxonomic classes of ectothermic vertebrates, which renders them an ideal system to investigate the genetic basis of host switching in DNA viruses.
My research is predominantly lab based and computational in nature. I am currently experimentally evolving ranaviruses by growing them in cell culture for hundreds of viral generations in a variety of conditions and host species, then sequencing the genomes of the resulting adapted viruses. The outcome of these experiments will reveal the rate and nature of adaptive mutations that occur in ranaviruses when repeatedly transmitted in the cells of different host species.
Ultimately, this research will shed light on the adaptive evolution of an important group of wildlife pathogens. My research will further provide invaluable knowledge of the molecular basis of host switching, which is a timely and important topic to address.
Professor François Balloux (University College London)
Professor Trenton Garner (Institute of Zoology)
Couvillon, MJ., Boniface, TJ., Evripidou, AM., Owen, CJ., Ratnieks, FLW. Unnatural contexts cause honey bee guards to adopt non-guarding behaviours towards allospecifics and conspecifics. Ethology. 2015 121: 410-418. DOI: 10.1111/eth.12347