Research

I study how sex, social interactions, and ecology shape viral evolution. Viruses frequently infect the same cell, leading to conflicts of interest over cell resources. Viruses can evolve to exploit other co-infecting viruses and increase their reproduction at the expense other viruses. I work with viruses isolated from the environment, using a variety of lab techniques to understand the evolution of sexual strategies and their relationship with ecology.

I currently study genetic exchange among RNA viruses (Cystoviruses) that infect Pseudomonas bacteria. The genome of these phages is divided into three segments. Sex occurs when phages swap their segments while reproducing within a cell (reassortment). Reassortment occurs in other viruses, such as influenza, and is an important factor in determining the capacity to infect new hosts, evade immune responses or vaccines, and adapt to new environments. Some of my research questions using the Pseudomonas-Cystovirus system are: How frequent is genetic exchange in nature? What ecological conditions encourage genetic exchange? What are the long-term evolutionary consequences of different sexual strategies?

My entry into microbial evolution started under the mentorship of Dr. Lin Chao (UCSD) and Dr. Paul E. Turner (Yale), following my doctoral research on cooperatively breeding tamarin monkeys in Panama. I conducted postdoctoral research on the spatial dynamics of bacteria and viruses on leaf surfaces with Dr. Steven E. Lindow and Dr. Ellen Simms at UC Berkeley. I am currently studying social interactions, evolution, and ecology of phage as a Faculty Fellow at NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology .

Previous Research

My doctoral research focused on the behavior, ecology, and genetics of tamarin monkeys (Saguinus geoffroyi) in the forests of Panamá. I was especially interested in the evolution of cooperative male parental care. Male parental care is rare among mammals, even when they are monogamous. In tamarin groups, two or more males mate with a single female and cooperate to rear her twin young. Why, from an evolutionary perspective would tamarins do this? I used multi-year demographic and genetic data to show that male pairs are stable across years, are related, and share paternity. Recent anthropological work suggests that early humans may have been cooperative breeders and tamarins (among the only cooperatively breeding primates) may contribute to understanding the origins of human cooperation.

Publications