Research

I study the social lives of viruses. Viruses frequently infect the same host, leading to conflicts of interest over host resources. Viruses can evolve strategies to contend with co-infecting viruses, ranging from exploiting other viruses to synergistically interacting to increase their reproduction. My research focuses on the evolution, ecology, and molecular mechanisms of these virus-virus interactions using genomics, experimental evolution, and environmental microbiology.

I currently study genetic exchange in segmented RNA viruses, including Cystovirus phages that infect Pseudomonas bacteria and influenza viruses. The genome of these viruses is divided into segments. Sex occurs when phages swap their segments while reproducing within a cell (reassortment). Reassortment is an important factor in determining the capacity to infect new hosts, evade immune responses or vaccines, and adapt to new environments.

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 studied social interactions, evolution, and ecology of phage as a Faculty Fellow at NYU's Center for Genomics and Systems Biology. I am currently an NIH Pathway to Indepence Fellow in Elodie Ghedin's lab studying reassortment in influenza viruses

Previous Research

My doctoral research focused on the behavior, ecology, and genetics of tamarin monkeys (Saguinus geoffroyi) in the forests of Panama. 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

Grants and Awards