Professional and Biographical Information
Article on Slate.com: Wildflower STDs and Further Proof There’s an App for Everything
Bit in La Stampa: Studiosi Usa in val Pesio analizzano un fungo
Ph.D., North Carolina State University (1996)
M.S., University of Virginia (1992)
B.A., University of Virginia (1991)
My research addresses the ecological and evolutionary forces that shape systems of inheritance and the dynamics of disease in natural populations, both aspects of what could be called 'transmission biology.' In particular, I am working on how different genomic regions interact with an organism's reproductive strategy. Regions such as sex chromosomes, autosomes, and cytoplasmic components differ in their modes of inheritance and are therefore exposed to conflicting patterns of natural selection. At the same time, all of these regions are connected through their effects on individual fitness. My work addresses the resulting instability of genetic systems (at both individual and population levels), its proximal causes, and how some organisms cope or even adapt to genomic plasticity. I also have a long-standing interest in the biology of infectious diseases in natural populations. In many ways, host-pathogen interactions have conflicts of interest and instabilities that are analogous to those involved in the evolution of genetic systems. This is most clearly seen in the dynamics of "genomic parasites" (such as repetitive DNA elements or invasive mitochondrial types), but also in the general principles of horizontal transmission and co-evolution that allow antagonistic relationships to persist. Most of my current studies use the parasitic fungus Microbotryum, which causes anther-smut disease on plants of the Caryophyllaceae.
I teach a course on Genome Biology, which addresses how genetic systems are structured and how they interact with the organism's natural history. The course reflects my research interests, in that it draws connections between genetic processes and the phenotype, or outward appearance, and the ecology of organisms. As part of this course, there a laboratory section where we conduct novel experiments in genome evolution.
Some autumn semesters I teach a course called Plants as Models in Organismal Biology. We address various approaches to ecology and evolutionary biology, using plants for our investigations. This class includes a lab/field component and exposure to the challenges of experimental design.
Other autumns I teach Introduction to Field Biology: Disease Ecology. While emphasizing infectious diseases and their natural histories, this course focuses on deriving important questions and the variety of field-based approaches to address them.
I also enjoy teaching an advanced Seminar in Disease Biology, which focuses on the evolutionary ecology of infectious diseases in domestic and wild populations. And, I have recently taught a course collaboratively with the Mathematics & Statistic department called, Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems.
In some spring semesters I team teach Adaptation and the Organism, one of the core introductory courses in Biology.
Selected Honors and Awards
NSF Award Abstract - #1115765, Disease at the Margins of Species Ranges. NSF 2011 - 2016.
NSF Award Abstract - #0747222, CAREER Award: Impact of Host Radiation on Genome Evolution in Parasites NSF 2008 - 2013.
John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, 2008-2009.
NSF Award Abstract - #0640681,Opportunities for Promoting Understanding through Synthesis (OPUS). NSF 2007 - 2010
Trustee Faculty Fellowship. Amherst College 2008 - 2009.
NSF Award Abstract - #0446671, Evolution of Molecular Parasites NSF 2005 - 2007.
NSF Award Abstract - #0346832, Karyotype Dynamics and Automixis in Microbotryum. NSF 2004 - 2007.
NSF Award Abstract - #0129995, Sex Chromosome Evolution with Haploid Sex Determination NSF 2002 - 2004.
Editorial Review Board - Journal of Evolutionary Biology 2009-2013
NSF Review Panel Service (including for DEB-Population and Evolutionary Processes, and Evolution and Ecology of Infectious Diseases): 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014
See also: Publications